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Matthew Resnick

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Great Principals: Leaders, Learners, Innovators

Posted: 03/19/2012 1:11 pm

The age-old question of "What makes a good leader?" is making its latest debut on the education front in New York City. With all the recent developments regarding teacher evaluations, the discussion of principal evaluations has emerged. In order to improve education, every aspect of a school must be addressed -- including the principal. Principals, like any other type of leader, have a lot of responsibilities. The main job of a principal is to ensure that the students in their school are receiving an effective education, and they must do whatever it takes to ensure that that happens -- no excuses.

What are the qualities of a great principal?

1) Providing constructive feedback to teachers

At an event hosted by teacher group Educators 4 Excellence, 64 percent of teachers in the room said that their principals do not provide meaningful feedback. This is a scary statistic. As a student, I am constantly being evaluated and given feedback -- this is how I know where my weaknesses are, and how I can improve. Teachers need the same type of support from principals.

2) Accepting feedback from teachers, administrators, and students

An effective leader must receive feedback from those they are leading -- and respect it. Being a principal should not be a solo job -- every part of the school community needs to speak up, and be heard. A principal needs to take both praise and criticism constructively. If something is going right, build on it. If something is going wrong, find out why, and fix it.

3) Being accessible and consistent

A principal needs to be available to teachers, parents, and students as often as possible. A principal can't spend all their time cooped up in an office, or outside the school building, rather a balance of in the classrooms and in an office. A principal needs to be present to ensure that what is supposed to be happening is happening, and ready to address any concerns that may arise.

4) Facilitating meaningful communication and collaboration between teachers

Communication is a fundamental concept across the board -- from personal things such as relationships to worldwide issues. A school is no exception -- the teachers and administrators must work together to improve classes, and the school as a whole. Students working together is no foreign concept. Group projects, peer tutoring, and other methods of student collaboration have existed for quite a while, and research has shown that this is beneficial for the students. Teachers can learn a lot from each other, even across the disciplines. Mr. Dimitri Saliani, principal of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, recognizes the importance of continued learning, even as an educator: "I pride myself on being a learner, not just an educator. Every teacher is a learner and has obviously enjoyed learning in their lifetime, hence their career choice, so I wondered how else we can learn from one another at ERHS." Mr. Saliani implemented a system that allowed teachers from all disciplines to attend his classroom visits with him -- regardless of the subject. I saw math teachers in my history class, history teachers in my science class, and so on. He concluded by stating, "It has invigorated the faculty and myself to learn from one another, to think about employing new teaching and learning strategies, and opened the door to new opportunities for collaboration." A great principal goes beyond the simple teacher meetings, and creatively develops innovative ways for teachers to collaborate.

5) A constant effort to innovate and improve

A great principal knows that there is always room for improvement. A principal should wake up every morning and ask "How can I make my school better?" Principals need to be creative, and develop unique ways to engage the teachers and students. Principals must be willing to take risks sometimes -- a school cannot be run the same tried-and-true way forever. Evaluators: keep this in mind -- measure a principal not just using pre-established rubrics and methods -- but on creativity and innovation, two things that don't always end up on paper.

A short, numbered list doesn't cover all the qualities of an effective principal -- a principal should have years of experience to complement the qualities I highlighted. In a release by Educators 4 Excellence, Evan Stone, Co-Founder and Co-CEO states, "As school leaders, principals play a key role in evaluating and supporting teachers and we need to make sure that they get fair and useful feedback that will ultimately benefit teachers and students." The bottom line is that in a school, everyone has a job to do, and everyone needs useful feedback in order to create the best learning environment possible. Principals are no exception.

Everybody, speak up! Share your thoughts on what makes a great principal, and how principals should be evaluated.