I have been told that Bill Gates has a lot of money. To his credit, he has sought to use his wealth to better the world. No, I don’t mean a new version of Windows (which, trust me Bill, the world does not really need, or better yet, really does not need) but rather his efforts to improve the educational system in the United States. Mr. Gates, as well as almost everyone else (or so it seems), has turned his attention to the teaching profession. He has correctly concluded that improving teachers is the key to improving education.
School Administrators and Principals
The more things change the more they stay the same. Over the last few weeks I have seen the truth of that simple phrase. My work as an educational consultant has taken me to three continents in the last three weeks, working with schools within very different cultures, any yet with amazingly similar challenges.
While the scope of those challenges reaches beyond my word allocation, one issue is too strikingly similar to ignore: parents. From Johannesburg to Jacksonville, principals and teachers alike all bemoan the fact that parents seem to be taking over our schools. Whether chairing school boards or organizing grass roots committees, they seem to be everywhere, voicing their opinions with conviction and unyielding determination.
How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, the joke goes, but it has to want to change! Effecting change in a school environment is a daunting task. This is due to the fact that, as the above quip illustrates, the environment has to want to change. This is rarely [...]
Watch Hertz Furniture’s School Matters Blogger and School Principal extraordinaire, Karmi Gross as he shares insights into an interesting phenomena amongst school principals. Principals walk into their role with a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm, ready to change the world. “But then things start to flatten out” says Karmi. Statistics show that the shelf life of school principal is 3 to 5 years while the longevity of top executives in the business world is much longer. Why the diffference? Watch the video to learn more.
Not a day goes by, somewhere in the world, where the following conversation does not take place:
Parent: I want my child moved to the other 5th grade.
Parent: Because the teacher in the other 5th grade, Mrs. Jones, is a much better teacher.
Principal: You know I just can’t move around children.
Parent: I understand, and I’m only asking this one time. And, by the way, why does my child always gets the inferior teacher?
Principal: I don’t understand why you think Mrs. Jones is a better teacher. Your child’s current teacher is an excellent educator. Your child’s excellent standardized test scores prove he is learning a tremendous amount.
Parent: Yes, but Mrs. Jones is so much more fun. After all, isn’t making learning fun more important than what they actually learn?
The story is fairly well known. It’s early Monday morning and a worried mother comes in to wake her son. “John” she yells, “It’s the third time this morning that I’ve called you. You have to get up!” A moan is a heard from under a heap of covers as John responds sleepily, “But I don’t want to go to school.” His mother tries to convince him of the importance of his being in school, to which John responds, “But, everyone hates me! The students hate me, the teachers hate me, and everyone in the office hates me!” “I understand”, his mother sympathetically answers, “But, you simply must go!” “But why?” her son replies. “Because”, says his mother, “you’re the principal!”
Why the reasons for such high principal burnout, leading to such high principal turnover rates?
It was one more of those very frustrating days as a school principal. I had carefully planned my day hour by hour to ensure an effective use of my time. I made sure to slot time for things important to me, such as visiting classrooms, meeting with teachers, talking with students and reaching out to selected parents. Each and every minute was judiciously budgeted. But then I got to school. (I don’t know why principals aren’t given the equipment that firefighters use, as it seems we’re always putting out fires. They’re probably afraid of what we might do with the axe!). Suffice it to say that by the end of the day half the classsrooms had not been visited, the teacher meetings had been shortened and the parents would have to be called later that night.
Go to any bookstore and you will find multiple shelves stacked with books that focus on nothing else but leadership. One might discuss how to become a leader, another how to remain a leader and another try to describe what is a leader in the first place.
Not to be outdone, I would like to offer a simple definition of leadership (not my own, but I have no recollection where I heard it) and discuss its implications for school leadership.
I know you’re going to call me naive. I know you’re going to say that simple solutions to complex problems can do more harm than good. I’m even reminded of a mental health professional who remarked that the ‘Just Say No” campaign to battle teenage substance abuse was like trying to battle the problem of homelessness by giving everyone a button saying “Just Buy A Home”. This would certainly hold true when speaking of dealing with bullies. But I’m going to throw it out there anyhow.
Principals are busy people. It is no secret that all principals are required to wear a variety of ‘hats’, assuming the role of manager, social worker, leader, fund raiser, to name just a few. In many instances it is the ability of principals to juggle these ‘hats’ that determines their professional success or failure.