Teaching

Report Probes Nuances Of Principals’ Jobs

By Catherine Gewertz — September 10, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Principals must be many things to many people, but above all, they must be master diagnosticians: able to take a school’s pulse, determine what it needs, and deliver, a report contends.

Making Sense of Leading Schools: A Study of the School Principalship” is available from the Center on Reinventing Public Education .

To aid the national dialogue about how to supply enough qualified school leaders, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle spent two years composing a portrait of what the principal’s job entails and analyzing whether current training offers adequate preparation.

In a report set for release this week, the researchers conclude that training must be revised to better reflect what principals really do, and they caution against rigid conceptions of what a principal should be.

Running a school can’t be reduced to one formula, or even a set of formulas, because each school has a unique combination of needs, said Paul T. Hill, the director of the university’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, which produced the study.

See Also...

See the accompanying chart, “Dancing to Their Own Tunes.”

“The principal’s job is being the leader of a productive organization that has to live with rules, has limited funds and a great number of obligations, and has a set of talents which are never the same in two schools,” Mr. Hill said. “You can go in with a single, unwavering view of what a principal’s role is, and you might well miss the point in a given school.”

But even while schools’ leadership needs vary, they generally fall into seven areas, the study found: instructional (curriculum and professional development); cultural (a school’s traditions and tone); managerial (operations, such as facilities and transportation); human resources (such as hiring); strategic (a school’s mission and vision); external development (marketing, fund raising, partnerships) and micropolitical (facilitating the interaction of the other six areas).

Distributing Leadership

Principals must make sure leadership is provided in all seven areas, but need not do it all themselves, the authors say. They outline several styles of leadership, from the one-man band, or a principal who attempts to lead in all seven areas, to the orchestra leader, who coordinates leadership functions among many staff members. In the middle is the jazz band leader, who designates certain staff members to “play solos"—to lead—in given areas.

Marc S. Tucker, the president of the Washington-based National Center on Education and the Economy, praised the report for advocating a broader distribution of the principal’s duties. But he took issue with it for giving little attention to the pressures on principals to improve student performance. They are inadequately prepared for that undertaking, he said.

“Developing the skill and knowledge in how to do that is what this game is about,” said Mr. Tucker, who co-edited a book last year on the challenges facing principals. “It’s about preparing turnaround artists.”

A school’s leadership needs and the way leadership is distributed are influenced by many factors, but especially by a school’s governance structure, the report says. The study, supported by a grant from the New York City-based Wallace Foundation, examined 21 schools in four states, including regular public schools as well as private, charter, and magnet schools.

Private and charter schools’ freedom from district structures allows their principals more latitude to distribute leadership, while principals of regular public schools tend to be more constrained by such factors as tradition, union contracts, and bureaucracy, the study found.

Private and charter schools may have a greater need than public schools, for instance, for fund-raising and marketing skills. The human-resource skills necessary in a regular public school—knowing how to work the district hiring system, for instance—might be quite different from those needed in private or charter schools, the report notes.

One of the tricks to successful school leadership is matching a principal’s strengths to a school’s needs. Too often, the report says, districts err by treating principals as interchangeable entities who can perform as well at one school as at another.

But before any such match can work, the authors argue, principals need to know how to diagnose problems and produce or oversee solutions in the seven areas of leadership. In interviewing the principals, the report’s authors heard repeatedly that little or nothing in their training had prepared them for the reality of their jobs.

They wished most frequently that they had been better trained in cultural sensitivity, conflict resolution, diagnosis and problem-solving, organizational theory, and business and financial administration, and had had mentoring that extended into their first years on the job.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Opinion How to Kill Student Curiosity in 5 Steps (and What to Do Instead)
In countless classrooms across the nation, I’ve observed well-intentioned teachers and administrators slowly stifle student creativity.
Olivia Odileke
5 min read
A field of lightbulbs, only a couple are lit. Concept idea of light bulb, creative, thinking, motivation, success, and thinking, surreal conceptual art, 3d illustration, painting artwork.
Jorm Sangsorn/iStock + Education Week
Teaching Cute Visuals Can Distract Students From a Lesson: 3 Tips for Teachers
Playful visuals may make a lesson more fun, but they can also get in the way of learning.
4 min read
Teaching Opinion How to Ace Your First Year of Teaching
A veteran teacher offers 9 tips for how to make your classroom calm and productive right from the start.
Gary Kowalski
5 min read
School Setting Superimposed on Modern Community Head Profile Icons combined with an Abstract Geometric Pattern. Classroom management, early career teacher professional development.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + DigitalVision Vectors + Anastasiia Neibauer/iStock
Teaching Opinion Teacher Strategies for Making Learning More Relevant to Students
Once you understand what makes your students tick, you are better equipped to develop meaningful lessons.
10 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty