Opinion
School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Principals, School Climate: Readers Share Ideas

April 15, 2013 2 min read
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To the Editor:

The article “Principals Lack Training in Shaping School Climate” (March 6, 2013) totally hit the mark in an area we often do not pay enough attention to as we discuss scores for California’s academic performance index or adequate yearly progress under the No Children Left Behind Act.

As a former principal and coach at the University of California, Berkeley’s Principal Leadership Institute, I have seen over and over again schools that are truly transformed have one major thing in common: a leader who knows how to create a positive school climate and spends a great deal of time building relationships. These leaders tend to have several qualities in common:

• They take the time to meet with everyone in the school. In addition to teachers, they meet with secretaries, food-service personnel, and custodians. What are each person’s hopes and dreams for the school, they ask. How can the school be improved? Their mantra is “we will work together.”

• They create strong bonds with families. They are very visible throughout the day. They are in the yard before school, during lunch, and after school. They learn the name of every child and greet parents by name.

• They are terrific listeners. They are able to reflect on the ideas of others. They realize that the last one to know it is in the water is often the fish, and they want to hear the opinions of others.

• They tend to be humble. You do not hear “I, I, I.” You hear “we, we, we.”

With staff, students, and families—step by step—they create amazing, nurturing schools where children thrive.

Rebecca Wheat

Berkeley, Calif.

To the Editor:

“Principals Lack Training in Shaping School Climate” brought some attention and clarity to the issue of supporting new principals. Even our best-prepared new principals find the role invigorating, overwhelming, and ever-evolving.

Once focused on building management and compliance issues, principals are now instructional leaders who must create thriving school cultures, support teachers to continuously improve their craft, analyze student achievement, and actively engage in the community. What’s more, for teacher-evaluation systems to become more meaningful, principals must gain new skills that allow them to make the shift from simply completing evaluation processes to also developing teachers through providing feedback and coaching for improvement.

One way to overcome all this is to give principals the support they need to create thriving cultures where teachers want to teach and students want to learn. Put comprehensive principal-induction programs in place that include both job-embedded coaching of new principals by well-trained and -supported coaches and a new-principal academy that provides the targeted framework for entering and leading a school. This works.

In Chicago’s public schools, where nearly one-third of principals are new to the role and a majority serve in high-poverty, high-minority schools, new principals are getting this support through my organization New Teacher Center.

After two years, participants felt they were more effective. In 2010-11, 68 percent of these same new principals exceeded the district average for improvements on student outcomes. Our students and their teachers need their new principals to accelerate their proficiency in leading schools.

We need to put systems of support in place now to make sure new principals don’t fall into the trap of becoming operational managers instead of culture shapers and leaders of learning.

Mike Heffner

Vice President

Leadership Development

New Teacher Center

Santa Cruz, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2013 edition of Education Week as Principals, School Climate: Readers Share Ideas

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