As a kid (a few years ago), I can remember helping clean out the garage at my grandparents home. Normally, the prospect of cleaning out a garage was met with limited enthusiasm, but working at my grandfather’s was different. The garage was filled with interesting, but for the most part useless novelties – a virtual treasure chest to a young boy. We did a lot of sweeping, and “organizing”, but we were rarely allowed to throw things out…not even the keg of rusted and bent nails. There was a level of comfort in knowing that if something was needed (no matter how improbable), it could be found in the garage.
Recently, I have been following a Twitter and blog discussion about whether school principals are still needed. The conversation was started by Josh Stumpenhorst, with his blog post, Do We Need Principals?, and continued with a second post Do We Really Need Principals? A Follow-Up. A number of people have weighed in on the subject, like this piece by Justin Tarte, What Makes a Great Principal? and one by George Couros – Do We Need (Great) Principals?
Yesterday, I ran across this quote, by George, in a blog post comment and it resonated.
“I have seen a few blog posts lately that hint administrators “don’t get it” and I guess my response to that is “be the change”. Define the role by going and doing it. There is no “template” that all admin must stick by.”
For me, this comment really strikes at the crux of the problem. In many cases, we do act as if there is a “template” that defines our roles, and unfortunately, it is the same template that has been used for years. We frequently lament the factory model of education, but we must recognize that in many cases, we are still using a factory model of leadership. I am relatively new to the position of principal, but I can not tell you how many times I have had teachers tell me they could never go into school administration. My suspicion is that this is not necessarily a compliment related to the challenges administrators face, but rather an expression of distaste for what is seen as the role of the principal: discipline, budget issues, supervision and a general disconnect from students, and what is happening in the classroom. This is where, as George stated, we must “be the change.” We need to step away from the safe, the familiar, the “expected” and pursue innovative leadership practices. I think we still need principals, but how we define that role, and what we expect from these leaders, must change. We need to be willing to clean out the proverbial garage, to get rid of the rusty keg of bent nails.
Redefining the position of principal will require a committment to dialogue and learning, and a willingness to break the mold and try new things. Thankfully, technology and social media make this collaboration, much easier. I have been fortunate to learn from a number of progressive administrators – Patrick Larkin, Cale Birk, Chris Wejr, Bo Adams, Lyn Hilt, George Couros, Dov Emerson, Justin Tarte…to name a very few. These administrators are helping me shape, and redefine, what I see as my role as principal.
So, in the interest of moving the conversation forward:
If the role of the school principal is going to stay relevant, what needs to change? What “traditional roles” should be diminished or removed? What new responsibilities should school principals be prepared to address?