Principals Need to Be Good Managers
Nearly every course leading to certification as a school administrator refers to the building principal as an important instructional leader. Working principals often bemoan the fact that personnel issues, budget issues, disciplinary issues, etc. keep them from fulfilling the job of instructional leader. As the instructional leader, the principal takes on responsibility for student learning in her building.
However, new research published in this month’s Phi Delta Kappan reveals that perhaps we have defined the role of instructional leader too narrowly or perhaps too personally for principals. Researchers Eileen Horng and Susanna Loeb have found that good organizational management has a stronger effect on student achievement than the individual principal’s observations of instruction and personal contributions.
In other words, principals influence student outcomes by hiring effective teachers and providing a supportive and orderly environment in which they can do their jobs. Their own personal suggestions to classroom teachers are far less important.
When you think about it, why would a principal, just by being appointed to the job, be automatically imbued with the knowledge and ability to help individual teachers improve classroom strategies and techniques? I remember some of my first principals and assistant principals when I was teaching. None had taught English, my particular subject, and none had been remembered as particularly outstanding teachers themselves. And none that I remember, by the way, ever gave me any useful suggestions for improvement. Still, I was fortunate enough that these guys (and they were all guys) knew how to run a safe, orderly, well-managed school so I could do what I knew how to do – teach.
So when I became a principal myself, I wondered what I was supposed to tell the band director or the physical education instructor or the physics teacher about how to improve delivery of content. I could certainly help with classroom management and organization tips, but my better contribution was to find the money for staff development taught by people who knew more about delivery of specific content than I did.
The philosophy of a superintendent I once knew was this: “My job is to remove obstacles in the way of good teaching. I hire good people, find the money to make them even better, and get out of the way.” Maybe he was on to something.