What do great principals do?

Response from “Ask Former Trustees – Clear Creek ISD Chapter”: Joanna Baleson, Ken Baliker, Jennifer Broddle, Bob Davee, Glenn Freedman, Ann Hammond, Charlie Pond, Page Rander, Dee Scott, Win Weber

School principals are the academic, administrative, and social-emotional leaders of a school. They establish a school’s priorities and sense of community, including the school’s climate and culture as defined by the nature of external and internal decision-making and subsequent actions. The principal sets the tone for the school’s constituencies, especially how they respect and behave toward one another.

What are their responsibilities?

Principals have overall responsibility for a school’s curriculum and instruction; teachers and their professional development; school health, nutrition, cleanliness, safety and discipline; policies and procedures; planning, budgeting, and purchasing; and most importantly, students, parents, and community interactions.

What are the challenges of the job?

In addition to the responsibilities enumerated above, principals make hundreds of decisions each day to manage risk and assure the smooth, safe operations of their schools. They are simultaneously weighing costs and benefits, acting in the moment but with a recognition of past precedent and future implications. Estimates for the number of decisions per day vary widely (300-1500 educational decisions/day, depending on the definition of a decision and its impact). Typically, principals are the first to arrive and last to leave their schools each day – literally and metaphorically.

In a nutshell, what do great principals do?

Great principals create learning-centered environments in which student achievement is sustained at high levels; teachers and staff enjoy their work and do it well; and parents and the community know and trust that their schools are well run in every respect.

How do they achieve all of this?

According to Les Potter, who monitors how the role of principal is evolving, there are three critical factors necessary: stakeholder empowerment, site-based decision making and professional learning communities. In this dynamic context, principals become servant leaders, rather than traditional ‘bosses.’ (https://www.educationworld.com/blog/changing-role-principal)

The American Society of Curriculum and Instruction found three overlapping skill sets great principals possess: instructional, organizational, and interactive or people skills. For example, all three sets are important for ‘instructionally focused interactions’ with teachers; creating a productive school climate and culture; facilitating collaboration among teachers, parents, and volunteers; and effective management of resources, personnel, and other assets.
(https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/what-great-principals-really-do) (See Figure 1 below)


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