The job of school principal is a significant one for the life of the school. It brings with it immense responsibility, massive work load, and daily unpredictability. Despite the challenges, it is (in my opinion) the greatest job you will ever have as long as you are prepared for it.
If you’re already a principal, you may have just chuckled thinking about how no one can really prepare you for the unexpected things that come your way in the fast-paced flurry of being a principal. While you could never replicate all of the things that will happen to you as a principal, you can prepare for the position, and most importantly continue to grow as you reach the principal’s office.
During my career, I worked as a school-level administrator for fifteen years and am now in my fifth year in a support role for principals, assistant principals and a trainer for those who aspire to be school leaders. What I’ve learned is the individuals who become successful in the role of principal have the knowledge to do the job, the skills to get things done, and the dispositions to be successful regardless of the circumstances.
Conversely, the people who struggle have a gap in their capabilities in one or more of those areas. You wouldn’t think that candidates with a hole in their knowledge of the job would get the position, but the constant turnover rates often lead systems to select the best candidate available which may not be everything they want. If you are playing catch-up, gaps in knowledge are the easiest of the three performance areas to tackle. After all, there is a lot to know! Some things you need to know as principal aren’t accessed on a daily basis from the assistant principals role (I almost always hear of APs wanting to know more about budgeting). Systems that build intentional pipelines to the principalship are more successful in helping their individuals be intellectually prepared for the position.
The list of skills you need to be a successful school leader is a long one. NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) created such a list in 2010 and has revised it since. They arranged the skills of effective school leaders in these categories: Educational Leadership, Resolving Complex Problems, Communication, and Developing Self and Others. The degree to which the principal is skillful in those areas can be predictive of her/his success as the leader. When principals struggle, it can often be tracked to those areas, particularly communication and leadership. You have to be able to get people to see the vision, join the journey and commit to excellence. Some people are better than others at doing those things, and prior experience in “being in charge” and leading others is good preparation for the principalship.
Finally, success or struggle as the principal often comes down to dispositions– your attitudes and your habits. The job of principal if done well is one involving and including others at a deep level. It requires a motivator, a connector, a consensus builder, a conveyor of hope and high expectations. The pace of the school comes from the leader and this is the toughest of the three performance dimensions on which to work. Real change comes from inside and only when you make the decision to change. A good attitude alone isn’t enough to be successful, but it can be the difference maker to help you as you grow in your knowledge and your skills.
More on what makes principals successful tomorrow!
This is part of a series of Eight Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle. It began on January 30. Please check back to see the series in entirety. Thank you!