The Importance of Principals

The following article was published in the Lethbridge Herald on March 9, 2016.

Most often, behind every great school is a great principal. School leadership counts. I’ve contended for many years that the position with the most impact in a school division is that of the principal. They are pulled in many different directions on a daily basis and contend with issues, whether rudimentary or crisis, that demand time and energy. The reality is that the role of the principal is extremely complex and takes almost “superhuman” abilities to do it well. I’m always amazed at the lack of understanding by my students in the Principalship course I teach around the complexity of the role. It is not until we list all of the “job requirements” that they begin to understand the challenge of the position. Principals are essential in establishing and maintaining a quality learning environment.

It is easy to sit on the sidelines and analyze the effectiveness of the principal. But once you learn of the multifaceted role, a greater appreciation of their work is gained. In the current system, principals are evaluated based on seven dimensions: (1) fostering effective relationships, (2) embodying visionary leadership, (3) leading a learning community, (4) providing instructional leadership, (5) developing and facilitating leadership, (6) managing school operations and resources and (7) understanding and responding to the larger societal context. Within each of these competencies, a number of indicators are provided to guide the practice of the principal.

The first dimension, fostering effective relationships, is foundational to the role of the principal. Great principals build great relationships. Those relationships don’t just include staff and students but also parents, community members, central office personnel and trustees. Under this dimension, the principal not only has to act with fairness, dignity and integrity, but must also model and promote open and collaborative dialogue and use effective communication, facilitation and problem solving skills. Don’t forget about demonstrating sensitivity to and genuine caring for others while improving relationships, dealing with conflict and cultivating a climate of mutual respect. And finally, under this guideline, the principal is required to promote an inclusive, safe school culture that respects and honours diversity. Those are just the indicators for the first dimension!

When you really start to dig into what is expected of the principal, you start to appreciate the difficulty of the position. Effective principals are very special and should be well recognized for their efforts. It is not an easy task to create a safe and caring environment, meet the varying needs of students, staff and parents alike and ensure high quality learning in schools. It takes time and commitment and simply a love of the job. Principals have a huge influence on the culture of the school and the learning that occurs. Their work must never be undervalued or overlooked.

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