Utopian Qualifications for School Leadership

Yesterday, Standford University released a synopsis of a recent study conducted by its School of Education on Instructional Leadership. The study reached similar conclusions to previous research. This particular study examined school leadership via survey-based methodology across East and West Coasts and the Midwest. Participants included 800+ principals, 1100 assistant principals, and 32k teachers. In addition to the survey, researchers conducted 250+ full-day observations and interviews with principals. The results? Schools demonstrate growth in student achievement when principals show strong characteristics as organizational managers.

According to Stanford’s definition,

  • “effective organizational managers strategically hire, support, and retain good teachers while developing or removing less effective ones”
  • allocate “budgets and resources, and [maintain] positive working and learning environments”
  • “strong managers develop the organizational structures for improved instruction more than they spend time in classrooms or coach teachers”
  • In essence, principals should not focus on day-to-day activities and spend less time on administrative tasks like managing discipline, but place a conscious effort in long-term school climate.

At first glance, these definitions lead to make me think that schools should be treated as businesses. And maybe to some extent they should be because don’t schools provide a product to the public and to the students they serve? Aren’t schools supposed to demonstrate successful academic outcomes? And then wouldn’t it make sense to promote good teachers and give amazing bonuses? But what constitutes good, productive, and effective teaching? A teacher whose grade book is full of As and Bs (perhaps not entirely an honest record), or a grade book that includes a range of grades that adequately shows students’ abilities? And this is perhaps an entire different can of worms to discuss at a later point in time. But I digress – let’s get back to the issue at hand – how are school principals supposed to look like if schools are to demonstrate academic growth?

Let’s break the definition down a bit. If principals are to be strong organizational managers who hire, support, and retain good teachers, then why would there be a need to develop or remove less effective ones? Who is on the hiring committee and what are the criteria when hiring new faculty? If there is a need to develop less effective teachers, what constitutes effectiveness? And what proof or documentation would be needed to remove less effective teachers? One could argue that if the strong organizational managers hires effective teachers, then the teachers who require development or need removal are those who are more seasoned to the school – the veteran teacher. But not just any veteran teacher, one who is not willing to assimilate desired approaches to teaching; a veteran teacher not willing to develop.

  1. How does your school manage with teachers who are resistant to change?
  2. What is your definition, or your school’s definition, of effective/effectiveness?

If principals are not the ones conducting classroom observations, there is someone at the school with the designated role to do so. If principals should be able to allocate budgets and resources, effectively, then the principal should have a background in finance and/or business. If principals are to a maintain positive learning and working environment, then the principal should have a background in psychology. If principals are to improve overall instruction, then they should also have a background in curriculum and instruction.

  1. Do you know of a principal who carries these qualifications?
  2. What is the role of your school’s principal?

Between public and private, single-gender and co-ed, and parochial and non-denomination systems, geography, funding, and standards (state and federal), among other aspects of running a school (a business), are principals able to act as organizational managers, or are the pressures of other issues at hand hindering this study’s suggested implications for policy and practice?


One thought on “Utopian Qualifications for School Leadership

  1. Pingback: Effective Facilitator | Embark For Progress

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