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Christal Watts Headshot

Being a Respected (and Effective) Principal From a Teacher's Perspective

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Ask any teacher about the principals they have respected over the years. Many would probably tell you that a respected and effective principal is one who looks at the reality of their school site and doesn't automatically blame the staff for the many ills that may plague that school. Instead of pointing fingers, they seek to work with their staff to come up with solutions. They understand that talking to the teachers who have worked at this school with the students and the community gives most teachers much earned credibility. They also understand that if they want to implement change then they had better make sure that they have credibility as well.

The quickest way to failure for a principal at almost any school site is a principal who is hell bent on making a name for himself/herself and thus, dismisses any ideas from their staff. If a principal tries to implement a program at a school site that the teachers do not agree with or think are silly or unfounded, the teachers will inevitably choose to do what they want once their door is closed.

The other thing that inevitably happens when teachers do not respect their principal is calls to their union automatically increases. In my district, there are over twenty school sites. I routinely hear from only four or five school sites.

The teachers who respect their principals are willing to give them the benefit of doubt. When an issue arises, they know that they can go to their principal and talk to them without fear of retribution. They know that if there is a contract violation, they can have an informal discussion and have it resolved without it going any further in the grievance process.

Those at the handful of sites in which there are routine problems, do not trust their principals to do the right thing. They do not have a relationship built on mutual trust and respect. This lack of trust plays itself out in the numbers of grievances that are filed.

When Districts implement programs, it is the job of the principal to relay this information to their staff. Those who do this successfully do not do this without having a conversation with their staff about the program and including the staff in how best to meet the demands of the District. They will often make it clear to their staff why the program is being implemented and seek input on how best to make the program work based on the composition of their school site.

Not so at school sites where the principal believes they are king or queen of their little fiefdom.

These principals will simply announce at a staff meeting that there is a new program which needs to be implemented because the district says so. They do not engage their staff in any type of conversation and those who ask questions are quickly labeled as not being team-players or trouble-makers.

All of this is not to say that respected principals are pushovers. Many respected principals are able to implement change, even if there is disagreement, because their teachers and other staff trust that they are doing the right thing by their school. Staff and teachers know that this principal is not driven by an overblown ego whose only thought is how they look to the District.

Then there are those who act in a very passive aggressive manner towards their teaching staff. These principals will not listen to any complaints, but will overtly suggest to anyone who listens that this change isn't their idea at all and will direct all blame towards the District. They will tell their staff that if they want to complain, then maybe they should talk to Mrs. Meanie at the DO. In the meantime, this principal will believe that any pushback is not a result of it being bad for students or the teachers who teach them. Instead, they believe that the majority of their teachers simply are resistant to change and are for the oft cited "status quo."

When adults cannot act like adults to collaborate and develop a sense of mutual trust and respect, it ultimately undermines the climate of the school. The smaller the school site, the more this seems to impact students. If we want our kids to get along, shouldn't we as the adults, do the same? One of my biggest frustrations is talking to a principal who has obvious disdain for the teachers he or she leads. If this happened in a classroom, parents would be outraged and would want this teacher removed from the classroom. So why is it okay if a leader of a school site treats their staff in a way that is derisive and disrespectful?

As my students used to always say, "if you want respect, you have to earn it," something that some principals fail to heed.

If you're a teacher, what are some qualities that a respected & effective principal need? What are the qualities that you've seen in principals that are not respected & effective?