What characteristics make a great principal? The Wallace Foundation has published research that gives us a look at what school leaders can do to significantly improve the teaching and learning in their schools. This brief synopsis barely does justice to the breadth and width of the research, but it can point “inquiring minds” to the full report.
On first blush, the basic tenets that the researchers have teased out are not startling revelations, but collectively, their interactions are powerful. The report, The School Principal as Leaders, tells us that effective principals are successful in meeting five key responsibilities:
- Shaping a vision of academic success for all students: An effective principal take steps to assure that the commitment to academic success for all gets picked up by the faculty and under pins a school wide learning improvement agenda.
- Creating a climate hospitable to education: A healthy school environment is characterized by basics like safety and orderliness, as well as less tangible qualities such as a caring attitude toward the children. Principals also play the major role in developing a “professional community” of teachers who support one another in improving instruction.
- Cultivating leadership in others: The principal cannot personally do all that needs to be done in order to have a successful school. Principals need to depend on others to accomplish the group’s purpose and need to encourage the development of leadership across the organization.
- Improving instruction: Effective principals work uncompromisingly to improve achievement by focusing on the quality of instruction. They help define and promote high expectations and connect directly with teachers and the classroom. Effective principals make data their “friend” and view data as a means not only to pinpoint problems but to understand their nature and causes.
- Managing people, data, and processes to foster school improvement: The leadership challenges are far from small or simple. To get the job done, effective leaders have to be good managers. While this is easy to say, it is hard to accomplish. Effective schools find ways to help make teachers successful. But principals also have the responsibility to assure that children do not have to endure an ineffective teacher-tough, but critical part of the job.
One needs to digest and internalize the Wallace Report to get the proper sense of the significance that it should hold for principals, aspiring principals and those responsible for developing effective principals.
Woven through the study is the clear understanding that a spirit and commitment to involving teachers and parents in the life of the school is a crucial responsibility for the principal.
A key step that a principal must take is to create a cohesive school leadership team which is focused on the same goals. In order to build this cohesive team, a principal and the team need to have adopted a core set of collaborative problem-solving and decision-making strategies which are integrated into the professional work culture of the school.