By Bossi, Mike
Leadership , Vol. 36, No. 5
Diane, a second-year principal, recently shared the following with me: "My experience as a first-year principal? Well ... it was kind of like having a baby. I had done a lot of baby-sitting, read all the parenting books and taken loads of parenting classes before becoming a mother. I thought I was prepared ... that I knew what being a parent was all about. Then, the baby came--and my whole life changed.
"I found that becoming a principal was a lot like having my first child. No one can fully be prepared to meet the unique demands of the job. No one can fully understand the principalship until she is in the leader's chair. Don't get me wrong--I love it! But, if it hadn't been for the guidance, support and reflective growth prompted by my coach, I never would have made it."
I'm not a mom, but my life certainly took some unanticipated turns when my daughters were born. And although I survived and thrived in the principalship for more than 20 years, I haven't forgot ten those first two or three years as a new principal ... and my wife certainly hasn't forgotten them either!
We must recognize that the challenges of the principalship in the early 1980s bear little resemblance to what our new educational leaders face today. Before the advent of professional and content standards, each individual teacher determined what would be taught, how it would be taught, and how learning would be assessed. Today, teachers must collaborate around the meaning of standards, levels of student performance, conditions of classroom assessment, and the development of interventions within the professional learning community for students at risk of not achieving the standards.
As the teacher's world has shifted from one of isolation, the principal's role has shifted from managing and evaluating individual instructors to creating and maintaining data-driven collaborative cultures. With a clear focus upon the achievement of all students, the principal must serve as both instructional leader and learning leader. This requires new skills sets. The principal must now be able to engage in systems thinking and demonstrate the ability to both understand and guide complex processes of evaluation, change and group development.
For a dozen years in working with bright and enthusiastic young leaders at the summer UCLA Colloquium for New & Aspiring Principals, we team leaders would caution our participants, "Take it easy for the first year, maybe two. Spend time getting to know your staff, the instructional practices and the school culture. Establish trusting relationships with teachers, classified staff, parents and the community. Come to understand and fully appreciate and respect the 'way things are done around here' before making significant changes."
It's a new day, baby! Many of our best and brightest young leaders are being asked to assume their first school leadership roles in Program Improvement 2, 3 and 4 schools. Marching orders from their district offices--and the state--call for them to make revolutionary changes in the way reading and math is taught and assessed, right from the get-go.
In many cases, our new principals are being told to not only change the way instruction is delivered, but also to change the way teachers do their work--change how they spend their time, inside and outside their classroom. They are told, "While you're at it, challenge and change basic belief systems about teaching, accountability and learning."
We might as well be sending them into schools wearing T-shirts that say, "I really want to foster an open, respectful collaborative relationship ... but, first, I'm gonna rock your world!"
Embracing the challenge
Is it just me, or does this seem like a prescription for heartburn? Why don't we have more people stepping up to embrace the challenge and joys of the principalship? According to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, only half of those who complete training for the preliminary administrative services credential (Tier 1) move forward to take educational leadership positions and acquire the professional clear administrative services credential (Tier 2). …