- Matthew Howell, a New Jersey middle school principal, shares in an Edutopia article his journey to recognizing that producing high test scores is not a principal's primary mission; instead, it's helping teachers succeed in their mission of helping students realize their full potential.
- To succeed as a leader, Howell says, principals must face the hard task of letting go of outcomes, along with resisting the temptation to overanalyze information and micromanage teachers. These efforts, he adds, can stifle the growth of a leader, impede the school’s progress, and create an atmosphere of tension and discouragement that can affect the school’s climate.
- Trust is a key ingredient in this process, Howell says, and principals must have faith that teachers and staff members are invested in the school's shared mission. However, there are certain things principals should never let go of: professional pride, collaborative engagement and integrity.
As principals face pressure from district leaders and the community to produce quantifiable results in terms of achievement data, it is easy for them to become overwhelmed. Though principals are responsible for ensuring their students receive a quality education, many factors that influence school performance — including students' socioeconomic statuses and the amount of sleep they get each night — are beyond their control. When added to the other struggles that principal face daily, the pressure of school performance scores can sometimes be too much to bear.
However, keeping the main mission in mind can help school leaders gain a fresh perspective and allow them to focus on what is most important. The goal of education is to help students succeed and, in doing so, realize their full potential — even if that potential does not translate well to standardized test performance. If principals focus too much on scores, rather than learning and applying of new concepts, they can both discourage students from a lifelong love of learning and drive teachers away from classrooms. Alternatively, principals can end up making poor choices to motivate teachers, such as one principal who staged a mock funeral for an infant in an effort to underscore the need for achievement.
One of a principals' primary roles is to create an environment where teachers can teach — not just to a test — and are motivated to do so effectively. They can do this by listening to teachers, motivating them and encouraging them in their work, and this is done best by building trusting relationships; with a lack of trust comes an atmosphere that hinders the teaching process. But amid all these important ideas, principals can't forget to care for themselves lest they burn out and become ineffective leaders.