Just How Hard Could It Be?
By Adam Bussard
Brownstown CUSD #201
Indiana State University
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
The duties for building principals are endless, as it seems that the current perspective in K-12 education is that principals must shoulder quite the burden, indeed. Responsibilities such as psychometric compliance to ever-moving standardized testing targets are adding substantial time, work, and stress on some of our greatest leaders.
Don’t get us wrong, some of the accountability pieces put in place the last several years are good and help principals ensure through the evaluation and supervision of their teaching staffs the best possible education for students. The question is though, “Is it fair to our principals to expect that they need to assume ALL responsibilities as instructional leaders along with responsibilities of running a building and tending to the needs of a community?
As Fullan (as cited in in Pepper, 2010) stated, “Never before has a school principal’s job been more important and never before has the job been more difficult. Today’s school leaders are caught between current expectations of improving test results and expectations of the past in which the principal’s job was to see that the school ran smoothly and the principal was responsive to students, parents, and other stakeholders” (p. 43).
Data show that school leadership can have an effect on teacher and student performance, yet much of this is reliant upon positive and proactive strategies in management in providing support systems that will enable all to maintain high quality job performance. Middle management is not a profane term.
Yet in recent years it has become unfashionable.
We wonder how often district level administration and boards of education are educated on the daunting managerial tasks necessary for organizational success that are being demanded of building principals each day – those that have little to do with teaching evaluation or curricular leadership. To use a medical metaphor, someone must prepare the operating rooms for surgery and keep appropriate socio-emotional supports for those getting treated and their loved ones.
We would like to suggest a redoubled focus on transparency in preparation for careers in K-12 school building leadership. At minimum, every program should have a vibrant practicum or Internship where preservice principals are provided experiences in managing myriad demands as they are asked to lead. This would certainly go a long way toward allowing future principals 20/20 perspectives regarding the expectations that will be demanded of them when they accept their first positions.
Applied experiences of graduate school learning in real-world, unpredictable situations would also demonstrate what is ever-so-special about the careers of K-12 principals as well. After all, no other position in education today has the possibility of enhancing (and even “saving”) so many lives entrusted to its care. These opportunities to make a difference take place amidst challenges that are occurring for stakeholders in our states and local communities, where real lives are being both positively and negatively affected by the economy and world events.
Take for instances the brutal reality that most districts are strapped for cash and are spending down their reserves because of the devastation of school funding in Illinois, as one example. Legislators are encouraging districts to do more with fewer resources. In the midst of all this, principals must serve as champions of “Can DO!” while fostering willingness in others to help one’s neighbors, friends, and colleagues, as a bright future is oftentimes out of our reach individually, yet not so collectively.
Just consider how difficult it is today for principals to implement some the newer mandates that are taking substantial amounts of time implementing include transitioning to the Common Core State Standards or implementing revised performance evaluation systems. Superhuman leadership is what today’s principalship is all about, including helping those as one example, who are threatened by the direction K-12 education is heading. It’s not what many signed-up for 20 years ago. In this, a strong rapport with faculty and staff is critical, as for buy-in to occur, all must trust that the principal is a caretaker.
Yes, the principalship is interpersonal; however, is simultaneously technical and pedagogical. For newbies, it is certainly “educational.”
One bit of advice we would be remiss if we did not mention to those considering a K-12 building principal’s career is that at all times, one’s professional position will be intimately political. This requires a new way of thinking, in that in order to implement needed changes, one may need to first become an armchair political scientist. Possibly a park bench’s anthropologist as well, of school culture, that is.
All too often, leaders who encounter the most resistance to change fail to step back, look, ponder, and beyond this … to “think,” and thus, become more concerned with how events affect them personally, as opposed to the naturally expected influences of politics and culture. Without a more panoramic perspective, principals can quickly lose any social capital they may have amassed if change through initiative isn’t accompanied by interpersonal resilience, political tact, and with-it-ness.
With-it-ness is the ability to see oneself as others are seeing.
These three qualities of resilience, tact, and with-it-ness involve FIRST taking care of ourselves. Although our hardwiring is to care-take for others and even though we are responsible for all that goes wrong under our watch, we must control the manner in which we deal with the stresses that arise throughout a school year and foster a certain degree of resilience for the baggage we’re most certain to accrue, personally.
Living a healthy life outside of school – the life of a husband, wife, partner, friend, dad, or mom – is part of the pre-service education we must share with transparency and without apology. Otherwise, we haven’t provided the visualization necessary that will allow in graduating principals, lasting success.
Chappelear, T. C., & Price, T. (2012). Teachers’ perceptions of high school principal’s monitoring of student progress and the relationship to student achievement. NCPEA Publications, 1(6), 1-16.
Pepper, K. (2012). Effective principals skillfully balance leadership styles to facilitate student success: A focus for the reauthorization of ESEA. Planning and Changing, 41(1/2), 42-56.
Adam Bussard and Ryan Donlan are incredibly excited about the quality of preservice principal candidates selecting pathways to building leadership on behalf of schools and communities across the Midwest and America. If you would like to have additional conversations with them, please consider reaching-out at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.