The following article was provided to the Lethbridge Herald and published on June 03, 2015.
Last week, one of my esteemed superintendent colleagues wrote about the importance of teacher quality on student learning. The research on this is very clear and so divisions invest heavily in providing opportunities for teachers to engage in high quality professional development to continually support improved teacher practice. However, what may be less known, and not quite as easy to tease out in research, is the importance and impact of quality leadership in schools on student learning.
The role of the principal is not just that of a master teacher who has climbed up the ladder. Principals are tasked with fostering effective relationships with students, staff, parents and the larger community. There is an expectation that they are visionary in nature and are able to lead their learning community both effectively and efficiently. They must also be instructional leaders, facilitate leadership opportunities in others, manage school operations and do so with an appreciation and understanding of multiple perspectives and varying contexts. They need to be apt at problem solving, collaborative in nature and possess both a thick skin and a compassionate heart.
Continuous improvement is part of their mandate. Great schools come about by pushing good schools to be better – not maintaining the status quo. Challenging the status quo is never easy and is often met with resistance from both internal and external critics. The role of change agent, to continually seek innovative practice and improved student learning, is never without some push back. Being a successful change agent requires that principals build significant organizational trust and practice both persistence and patience simultaneously. No easy feat for even the most gifted leader!
Furthermore, even though principals are required to be learned, it is equally important that they are constantly learning and modelling continuous growth to staff, students and parents. While it may sometimes be difficult for these leaders to be gone from the school and out of the building, principals (and those on their teams) must be fully engaged in high quality professional learning in order to support the overall school community. It is crucial that they maintain a high level of educational leadership through their own learning.
When you really look at the job description of a principal it is easy to recognize how important their role is in promoting student learning. It is a complex position that requires almost super human abilities. Yet, without them, it is highly unlikely that any school will make the leap from good to great – and that is why leadership counts!