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The Principal Teacher

The school reform advice recently offered by Steve Jobs and Michael Dell prompted quite a few comments on many edublogs, including in response to my rant on the issue.

While Jobs was discussing bad teachers, one theme that came up a lot in the blog entries centered around the quality of school administrators.

Those conversations, mixed with observations from last week’s overly-large meeting of all the principals in our district, have been swirling around in my head for the past few days.

The whole morning of their session was dedicated to helping them be better instructional leaders, specifically understanding the K-12 math curriculum, and many of us from central office were there to help keep things on topic (and solve a few tech problems).

Actually, it wasn’t hard to maintain focus since I got the sense that most of them would love to be spending more time on instruction and less on the administrative processes that occupy much of their time.

In the early days of public education in this country, the head of a school was known as the principal teacher. The principal actually taught students as well as running the place.

However, these days most principals in our system (and I suspect others) not only don’t teach but are more like building and personnel managers than educators.

Maybe we could improve schools by getting the people leading the places more involved in teaching and learning and less in shuffling paper.

Just a random thought.

principal, education, school reform

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4 Comments

  1. Maybe just random, but also sound. Administrators would benefit a great deal from being constantly reminded of the realities of the (ever-changing) classroom. I also suspect most of them would welcome the change. Everyone wins!

  2. In my district, largest in the country, quite a few new principals have never taught, or have taught for a very short period of time. Your proposal is on target, it is just too modest for here, by an order of magnitude.

  3. I tend to agree with you.

    (I posted a similar comment on Washington Monthly this morning.)

    We have principals (and assistant principals) doing bus duty, cafeteria duty, discipline referrals, keeping up with building maintenance, etc, and I think for a long time that principal-manager model has been in place.

    But that is not to say there aren’t many great principal-instructional leaders. There just need to be more.

    I think in failing or difficult schools, the need for a leader is critical.

    Just like corporations bring in new CEO’s to revive a company’s chances, new principal-leaders can turn a campus around. But it takes time and it also takes talent.

    I don’t think administrative programs at the college level have been getting the kind of attention that teacher education programs have been getting. But I think there is a key there in the change factor.

    And I don’t think it’s a solution to bring in businesses to manage the schools, which is often proposed. One of the issues I think many teachers have is that excellent teachers, with many years of experiences, sometimes end up being subject to an inexperienced principal who doesn’t have a good understanding of their campus and thus the teachers experience is not given enough support or credence.

    I love your idea of the teacher-principal.

    I love the idea of a team of teachers as managers. How rarely do we ask teachers to help manage the school, like a corporate team of managers would help manage a business?

    I know this debate began with the issue of unions. My state doesn’t even have teacher unions. I’m guessing there are other states who don’t as well. So…if the simple answers is that the problem is unions, then I ask, what about the states that don’t have them?

    We have similar problems to every other state in our educational system.

    I think Steve Jobs oversimplified the debate to some simplistic formula. And ironically, he made this statement in Texas, a state that doesn’t even HAVE educator unions.

  4. Doug

    Hi quality principals are more important than high quality teachers. In my career I have worked in several different schools from the elementary to the high school level. Very few school administrators, regardless of rank or title, are necessarily effective in my opinion. There is political banter about getting rid of poor teachers, and I agree with that (after trying to help them become good teachers first), but I think there should be more talk about getting rid of poor administrators.

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