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The Role of the Principal

As principal of your school, you set the tone for a community of learners—teachers who freely exchange information and ideas. You recognize that the members of your staff are learners, just as they are teachers, and need professional development experiences and materials that support their learning and their work in classrooms. You have the opportunity to create a culture of adult learning (NAESP, 2001). You can teach, coach, and promote the professional development of your teachers.

Research shows that customized professional development improves student achievement when it accommodates the varying needs of teachers and is sustained and implemented over time. Professional development should be embedded and connected to what a teacher does in the classroom, not viewed as a separate entity (Fullan 1995).

Research-based best practice instruction provides the materials needed to teach, support, and coach teachers. It also offers opportunities for practice in a simulated environment. Professional development should include modeling and demonstrating instructional practices and lessons. Teachers need good instructional support materials, along with diagnostic tools and research information.

Teachers who receive support and coaching generally practice new strategies more frequently and develop greater skill with teaching new strategies than teachers who do not receive the same type of support (Showers, 1982).

Today's principal is the facilitator of staff and student learning—the leader of a learning community. You are instructional cheerleaders who teach, coach, and promote the professional development of teachers. Your availability to your staff will enhance motivation, self-esteem, sense of security, and morale (Blase and Blase, 1998).

Principals have a positive effect on professional development when they offer a vision of learning, support collaborative change, and discuss professional research with their teachers. Teachers who work in a stimulating and supportive environment can reach higher stages of professional development (Phillips and Glickman, 1991).

The following "Questions for Further Reflection" have been created by NAESP to assist principals to assess the evidence of a culture of continuous learning for adults which is tied to student learning and other school goals:

  • Provide time for reflection as an important part of improving practice.
  • Invest in teacher learning.
  • Connect professional development to school learning goals.
  • Provide opportunities for teachers to work, plan, and think together.
  • Recognize the need to continually improve principals' own professional practice
(Standard Four: What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do, NAESP, 2001)

Being a Reading Leader

In Primal Leadership (Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee, 2002), four types of leadership styles are identified as being most successful in supporting teachers to be the best instructors they can be. These leadership styles are: visionary, coaching, affiliative, and democratic. The visionary leader helps define where the school is going but does not define how it is getting there. People can feel free to find their own way toward a common goal. The coaching leader helps teachers identify their strengths and weakness and encourages them to set long-term goals and helps them achieve those goals. The affiliative leader focuses on the emotional needs of the teacher, caring about the whole person and not only the required work. The democratic leader is one who, uncertain about what direction is best for the organization, asks for ideas from the staff. Leaders use a compilation of styles, deciding which style is right for their staff and school at the right time.

Identifying the Best Teaching Practices

Research shows that the most effective principals are the ones who spend time in the classroom. Being in the classroom lets them know what is going on and gives teachers the opportunity to receive help with their instructional efforts. For busy school administrators this is an enormous task—they cannot be in every classroom all the time. Many successful principals use a strategy called a "Walk-Through" (UCLA School Management Program, 2001), "Focus Walk" (America's Choice: NCEE) or "Learning Walk-Through" (Lauren Resnick, The Institute for Learning, 2001).

A "Walk-Through" is when a principal makes a five to seven minute visit to every classroom in the school. He/she identifies a "focus area" for classroom observation ahead of time, usually by posing a question. Examples of questions include: "Is there enough teacher-student, student-teacher interaction?" "Is there evidence that multiple learning styles are being met?" These questions will help you focus on the key elements you are trying to identify. After completing the "Walk-Through" the principal analyzes the information and decides how to best help his staff.

You may want to take a "Learning Snapshot," a technique that involves focusing on one learning skill, technique or interaction during a five to ten minute period in a classroom. For example, if you are trying to see if there are student-student interactions, you can literally take a picture or take notes of students working in groups. This picture can be sent back to the classroom teacher with a note, indicating that you saw this as a positive instructional technique.

Building a Nested Learning Community

Adult learning theory suggests that teachers must collaborate in order to learn. As a principal, you are the primary person to foster this process. For example, you can invite teachers to continue to meet in study or book groups and reflect on the strategies they have implemented. These meetings can encourage teachers to take on more leadership roles in the school. By arranging for common prep periods teachers at specific grade levels can plan together and share ideas. You might organize a "Bring Your Own Breakfast" meeting where teachers can have breakfast together and discuss what is going on in their classrooms.

This article is excerpted from a Scholastic Red Principal's Guide. Scholastic Red is a new, groundbreaking professional development program that gives teachers intensive support to help them succeed in raising student achievement in reading. Learn more.


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