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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Building Management: An Endangered Resource?

Building Management: An Endangered Resource?

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

I would like to see legislation requiring all State Policymakers or Legislators to spend a week as a School Principal prior to sponsoring mandates that would earmark a certain amount of a School Leader’s time and attention for Instructional Leadership.  Just where has the awareness of the importance of Building Management gone?

Take for instance recent changes regarding the evaluation of teachers.  In some cases, state action has been helpful, such as the creation of statewide rubrics that assist Principals in doing their jobs. The ones I have reviewed are very thoughtfully constructed, and the technical assistance and training is of high quality.  It seems to me that most helpful efforts in top-down educational decision making pertain to “The What,” of what needs to take place in school re-imagination.  Policy making and “The What” complement each other well.
Yet, in other cases, statewide action has not been helpful, even with the best of intentions.  One example would be new mandates that pertain to the “How and Under What Conditions” of classroom observations or timelines in teacher evaluation.  The carrying out of these professional responsibilities should be left to the discretion of Principals, working under locally developed Administrative Regulations in line with Board Policy.  Policy making and “The How” do not complement each other well.
Mandating how often and under what conditions school leaders must perform their instructional leadership responsibilities can result in collateral damage. In this case, the “What” – i.e. a system of evaluation that can potentially uplift professional performance while allowing for a more expedient and effective dismissal mechanism of bad teachers -- is quite helpful, indeed (and some may say overdue), yet methodological standardization to reach this end is not a best fit for anyone.  I’ll grant that legislation typically offers provisions allowing for leeway in who actually carries out “How” mandates, such as through privatization or with outside consultants, yet with the realities of current economic conditions in schools, will this really help?  With finite budgets, the Principal will end-up doing most of the job.

Where am I going with all of this? 

Efforts to improve Instructional Leadership in our nation’s schools are valiant and should be applauded, yet only if they are measured within the context of our protecting and embracing a Principal’s duty of Building Management. Student learning does not occur when Management takes a back seat.  A pendulum may be swinging too far toward an in-vogue notion that Instructional Leadership is “all that,” while at the same time providing “Building Management” a bad rap.
A tacit assumption seems to pervade conversation that leaders who spend too much time with Building Management are oftentimes those who rose to positions of leadership through a path well trodden by good-ole boys or lackluster academic pedigrees.  Another is that those who earmark smaller amounts of time to Instructional Leadership are bad leaders. In reality, however, it may be that some schools simply are in need of more Management, even with the best leaders in place.  Local context decides.  The old adage, “Walk a mile in one’s shoes,” applies.
Yet trends in policy and legislation provide worry for me that with newly prescribed requirements for Instructional Leadership, an unintentional micromanagement of a leader’s job may adversely affect his/her ability to soundly Manage a building – all this while kids are not coming any easier to educate.   Am I alone here?
Let’s consider SODA in the context of our discussion. Policymakers and Legislators with an eye on the ball of truly improving Leadership in our nation’s schools would ensure a focus on the Safety, Order, Discipline, and Attendance (SODA) in a school building. Quality teaching and learning demand that SODA is provided before instruction can have value. 
            The litany of variables and circumstances that can affect SODA on a daily basis would run for pages, all of which necessitate an attention to Building Management for Principals and similarly  make Instructional Leadership at times difficult. I will present a few of the many at this time. These are presented not to indicate that Instructional Leadership is unimportant; they are shared to awaken interest, once again, on the importance of Building Management and how much TIME it takes.

The following are examples of Building Management priorities that present themselves and take even the best Principals’ TIME:

A Principal’s TIME spent greeting students each morning and following-up with parents who arrive at the door, those with concern over issues of student welfare or simply needing a leader’s time.  Rushing into Instructional Leadership may not be the most prudent course of action each morning. Building Management is needed so that teachers can teach, parents can parent, and so that children can learn.

A Principal’s TIME investigating the veracity of reports that cyber-bullying has occurred outside of school hours and that in-school retaliation may result.  The list of involved students often numbers “more than a handful,” some who take liberties with the truth when questioned, resulting in even more time spent.  Proactive safety investigations take time, and failing to act prudently can hamper a school’s security and negatively impact learning. Building Management is needed to head things off at the pass and to protect those who are vulnerable.

A Principal’s TIME maintaining an open door to his/her office during instructional periods, as teachers who coach after school may need to use their preparation hours for conversations with the leader. With the demands on faculty members for student achievement, frequent access to the building leader is a must and should be a sound part of any Principal’s Management plan.

A Principal’s TIME in coordinating and overseeing building security issues of varying magnitudes when events in community go awry. A principal oftentimes has a delicate balancing act in keeping a finger on the pulse of external events while focusing on internal tasks at hand. Building management is needed to maintain readiness and the proper state of alert.

A Principal’s TIME in keen observation of the macro-environment during instructional time, with vigilance in maintaining a presence in the hallways, commons areas, and study nooks.  This is especially important when students are traveling back and forth between the academics in classrooms and the research in computer laboratories or when moving to and fro from study areas for those engaged in pullout programs.  I would argue that a Principal too-often focused on the micro-activities of scripting lessons in direct observation misses much of the larger picture.  Building Management is arguably a much-needed form of instructional stewardship.

A Principal’s TIME dealing with an angry community member in the front office; you know, “That Person” demanding to speak with “Whoever is in charge, OR the TV News will be called.”  Any prudent Principal will tend to the urgencies of reputation management, as an air of public opinion gone south can certainly derail an institution’s ability to educate. Building Management is needed to manage the message.

A Principal’s TIME handling a situation where a teacher reports that two students have come back from lunch smelling of marijuana. Time is of the essence; as oftentimes, once the trail gets cold it is harder to ensure a viable chain of evidence and prevent distribution from occurring beyond what has already taken place. Building Management is needed as we “say no” to drugs.

A Principal’s TIME addressing a non-custodial parent on school property attempting to sign-out a child from school. This is a delicate legal situation, as always. Building Management is needed to feel one’s pain while possibly telling him/her “No.”

A Principals’ TIME cleaning and sanitizing the restroom or hallway after a “deposit” made by a sick child, as in this era of finite budgets and caps on services, we cannot rely on custodians to be on duty during the school day.  The same could be said for the intermittent plunging of toilets. We’ll not have the secretaries doing this! Building Management is needed as Universal Precautions are taken.

A Principal’s TIME handling “all other duties as assigned” by the Superintendent, as that is what smart leaders do who pay their own mortgages and feed their own children.  Building Management, as well as the idiosyncrasies of one’s boss, is needed to keep a job and to make school a great place for kids and staff.

Given the myriad variables that influence a school leader’s TIME, is it really inappropriate to ask that Policymakers and Legislators allow Principals to carry out the “What” of Instructional Leadership under their own “How and Under What Conditions”?  With greater autonomy, Principals could, for example, choose to spend more time holding faculty members accountable who are underperforming, or conversely to spend more time witnessing and sharing the expertise of the truly exemplary. 
Currently, the trend seems to support mandates that hyper-standardize the “How and Under What Conditions” of a Principal’s Instructional Leadership, not only to the expense of Building Management but also much to the chagrin of those who might have a more efficient and effective plan for managing their time. Let us give Principals the highest of performance expectations and stay out of their way. 


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached for comment or questions at (812) 237-8624 or at  He encourages you to comment on this Blog, especially if you wish to offer thoughtful ideas with respect to teaching, learning, or leadership in our nation’s scho

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