The Artistry of Leadership: The Evolving Role of the Secondary School Principal

Article excerpt

Leadership is not a spectator sport, Mr. Tirozzi reminds us. The time has come to put the principal's leadership brush to the canvas to paint a vision of what tomorrow's schools can and will be.

Leadership is much more of an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do. The visible signs of artful leadership are expressed ultimately in its practice.

- Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art

WHAT IF Michelangelo had failed? What if his formal and informal training had not been adequate? What if he had fallen short of producing a lasting treasure? His creative genius would have gone unacknowledged, and millions of people would have been robbed of his art. Would the world have survived? Of course. Would our appreciation for art and the richness it bestows on us be somehow diminished? Probably.

As Michelangelo must have stood at the half-finished point of each of his masterpieces, envisioning the work in its entirety and understanding the magnitude of the task ahead, so too must we look at the profession of education generally and the school principalship specifically. What areas need to be reworked or totally redone? Are principals and teachers helping students to transform themselves into "masterpieces" or merely hoping that another artist will come along to re-sculpt the work? What are the consequences if we fail in our endeavor? Certainly the results will be more profound than a failure by Michelangelo.

Our education system is not a masterpiece, though we have the collective skills to make it so. It is a continual work in progress, respecting the reality that children learn in different ways. Without an understanding of the challenges ahead, a willingness to change, and an eye to encouraging each student to become a "masterpiece," schools fall far short in preparing today's students for tomorrow's complex and changing world.

At the dawn of this millennium, the challenges for secondary schools and principals in the United States include changing demographics, schools and curricula that are inappropriately designed for today's adolescents, principals trained to be managers rather than instructional leaders, and a dramatic shortage of qualified candidates willing to take on the principalship.

Few Michelangelos are appearing in school leadership positions. And even if one hundred or more existed, such pockets of creative genius in a school here and a school there would be insufficient. The challenge to our collective genius is to unveil the treasures within all students in every school. Each principal will have to answer the question, Did my leadership make a difference in improving the academic achievement and social and emotional well-being of students? And if that question is to be answered affirmatively, secondary school principals will have to acquire new and different skills.

The principal - the instructional "artist in residence" - establishes a climate for excellence, puts forth a vision for continuous improvement in student performance, promotes excellence in teaching, and commits to sustained, comprehensive professional development for all staff members. The principal ensures that curriculum, instructional strategies, and assessment of student progress are coherent components in the teaching and learning process. In short, the principal engages herself or himself as an instructional leader.

New Skills for a Changing Landscape

Creating lasting treasures requires a vision of the finished work and an understanding of the medium to be used. Long-range decisions we make today must anticipate what the future will bring. To understand the skills required of principals in the 21st century, we must examine the projected changes in the educational landscape and how those changes will affect the principal's role and vision.

The U.S. population and the school-age population will be changing dramatically during the first quarter of the 21st century. …