There have been two Stories from School AZ blogs focused on principal leadership this year. Beth Maloney writes a beautiful letter about what support teachers are craving in Dear Principal and Jess Ledbetter uses poetic transcription in Administrators: Be the Support We Need to share teacher feedback around what was wanted from administrators.
I have moved from teacher to department chair to building level administrator to director of personnel. What I have needed from administrators has had influence on who I am as a leader and has helped me develop my vision of leadership within my community.
When I became a building leader, I had no idea what was meant by, “Everything changes when you are the one sitting in the chair.” Prior to being a building leader, I could see myself doing all the things to run a school, I had earned my degree, filled in at the office, checked all the boxes. I was a school leader long before I had any title that told me so. But, I was unprepared for the daily stresses and difficulties that being an administrator would mean. I had the vision, but the balance is a killer.
Being a principal is the most wonderful job in the world. I spent time with the kids who needed me the most, supported teachers that required the most support, and assisted parents in how to best help their students. I connected with other agencies as issues arose, and although those issues were emotionally wearing, finding paths forward for struggling students was a beautiful thing. When I taught 150 students, I didn’t have time to find out all of the “whys” when kids stopped coming to class or suddenly failed. As a principal, my life became uncovering those root causes and helping kids find a better way. It was not usually a straight path.
I worked with teachers at all stages of their careers and skill levels to find out the best way to support them as they taught students. Sometimes, these conversations were not appreciated even if they were necessary. I had the luxury of working with the special education department and led some of the hardest working people in my school. With that, I learned the ins and outs of IDEA and 504. I spent every day before and after school in IEPs. I worked with teachers as they applied for Teacher of the Year, submitted National Board portfolios, and dreamed up amazing plans, while simultaneously I working with educators who I counseled out of the classroom.
What I knew and was able to do as a school leader, I learned on the job. According to the American Institute for Research, only 31% of school district use any of their Title II funds for principal professional development and of those schools, they average using less than 5% of funds. As a building leader, the professional development I received was designed for teachers unless I was could creatively cobble together funds from multiple sources.
The National Association of Elementary School Principals studied the effects of leadership on schools. As can be expected, quality leadership places 2nd only to quality classroom instruction on determining a student’s success. The NAESP determined that what made an effective principal was the ability to develop a vision, create a culture, cultivate leadership in others, improve instruction, and manage processes. These are the areas where principals move beyond handling the many issues that come their way each and every day and press forward toward improvement on their campuses.
Since funding has increased for CTE, there has been a huge shift in professional development provided for CTE teachers and counselors, but I’ve always wondered what the logic was in not providing funds for quality building level leadership to guide a school forward. There is massive development in one area of the school, but the leadership skills are not growing at the same pace so how can there be real improvement?
I know that spending money on administration is seen as wasteful, but how can a school improve without quality organizational and instructional leadership? It is not fair to anyone to have a principal giving feedback to a teacher, when it is clear the teacher has surpassed the administrator in instructional leadership. Just about every district has a mentorship program for new teachers, but what programs exist for administrators? Who are they supposed to turn to to grow in their roles?
If we know the research-proven positive effects that school leaders have on everything from student success to teacher retention, then why wouldn’t we see it as a key area to devote professional development dollars to? In addition, where is the quality professional development for administrators that is the deep dive into practice that is so desperately needed?
Principals turn to Twitter chats, webinars, and email blasts to fill some of the void, but I do not expect that this is the quality that Beth Maloney and Jess Ledbetter were looking for. Moving forward, if Arizona is going to make headway and improve our schools, a focus must be on supporting and growing quality leaders with the same tenacity and intention with which we support those newest to our profession.