It’s What’s Up Front That Counts —The PRINCIPAL

During the holidays, I had a conversation with a friend who is a district administrator in another state responsible for monitoring and assisting new principals and those experiencing “difficulties.“  Her story was filled with concerns about their administrative skills and leadership abilities.

In this blog, I share information with those of you who are in educational leadership (administrative) positions with a special focus on school principals.

My view about leadership in schools and elsewhere is summarized best by Zenger and Folkman (The Extraordinary Leader):

Character is the center pole, the core of leadership effectiveness.  Character traits, for our leaders and ourselves, include respect, responsibility, compassion, trust, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, self-discipline and courage.

I also like the Turknett Leadership Group’s “Leadership Character Model” (  Their view is that “Leadership is about character – who you are, not what you do.”  Their model includes three keys to character-related leadership:  

  1. Integrity (honesty, credibility, trustworthy);
  2. Respect (empathy, lack of blame, motivational mastery, humility);
  3. Responsibility (self-confidence, accountability, focus on the whole, courage).

You may have read a few of my past blogs on school leadership such as:

“What’s Under Your School’s Character Education Umbrella?”

“The Principal: Character, Collaboration and Commitment”

“What is This Thing Called – Leadership?”  

“The Qualities of Character and Leadership” 

“Presidential Character and Leadership”

Three examples of my books on this topic include:  

Complete Guide to Administering School Services

An Administrator’s Guide for Evaluating Programs and Personnel 

Character Education: A Guide for School Administrators

In the character education guide book, we developed the idea that a principal’s leadership role must include being a visionary, a missionary, a goaltender, a standard-bearer, an architect, an educator, a communicator, a provider, and an evaluator.

Interestingly, Jacob Francom researched the roles high school principals assume when developing, implementing, and sustaining character education efforts in their schools.  He found six main roles, three of which deal directly with leader skills and abilities: reflective leaders, collaborative leaders, and moral leaders.  These principals were also plate peddlers (get buy-in from constituents), cultural engineers (character education becomes the foundation of the school‘s environment), and champions (obstacles overcome, successes celebrated.)

“Roles High School Principals Play in Establishing A Successful Character Education Initiative,”  Journal of Character Education, Vol 12(1), 2016, pp. 17-34)

Three Surveys

A 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that three out of four K-12 public school principals believe the job has become “too complex,” with the majority contending that school leadership responsibilities have changed significantly over the last five years.  Nearly half of the principals surveyed indicated that they “feel under great stress several days a week.”

In a teacher survey, 21% of teachers polled completely agree that their school’s principal possesses the subject-matter/content knowledge necessary to help them improve their instruction.  Forty-one percent of the principals believe that they did. 

(Education Week Research Center, 2019)

A survey of the top reasons cited by principals for leaving their jobs are: poor working conditions, lack of resources, insufficient salaries, inadequate preparation and professional development, overwhelming job with inadequate support, lack of decision-making authority, and high-stakes accountability policies.  The research also shows “that principals are highly committed to their students and staff.  The root of the turnover problem is school conditions.”

(Education Dive, Roger Riddel, July 22, 2019)

Two Article Summaries

Bernard Marr, internationally best-selling author and keynote speaker, writes about the 14 Essential Leadership Skills During The 4th Industrial Revolution.  They include: actively agile, emotional intelligence, humbly confident, accountable, visionary, courageous, flexible, tech savvy, intuitive, collaborative, quick learners, culturally intelligent, authentic, and focused.

In the February 27, 2019 issue of SmartBrief, Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, writes that the “average 21st century school leader is in over his or her head in work demands and expectations.”  

He poses this question: “What are principals to do?”  

His answer: “Become more comfortable with and proficient at delegating.”

How?  His suggestions (edited) include: 

  • Remove bottlenecks, attend to the “continuity of process.”
  • Focus on prioritization.
  • Work only on the things that they are uniquely qualified to do. 
  • Delegate tasks – delegating meaningful work that builds trust and improves morale and engagement.
  • Encourage cooperation and teamwork.
  • Focus on communication.
  • Encourage new ways of looking at things, new approaches to problem solving.
  • Be accountable and responsible in shaping employee behavior. 

The Question

The question for current school principals posed by Baruti K. Kafele, an award-winning former urban principal in New Jersey: Is my school a better school because I lead it?”

His answer:  It’s my strong belief that to lead your school forward, you must consider this question daily.  To answer this question affirmatively, you must be absolutely clear about who you are as the school leader, what your mission is, what purpose drives your work, and how you envision the future of your leadership and school.  These characteristics determine who you are, what you’re about, why you’re about it, and where you are going.  They serve as a mirror for why you do this work in the first place.  You must lead your school with the confidence to say, ‘Yes, my school is, in fact, a better school because I lead it.’  And when you do, students win.”

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, University of San Diego, January 2020

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