The Second Hat All Great Principals Must Wear
School leadership has evolved. Once bluntly referred to as merely being about "books, butts, and buses," a phrase popularized by author Dr. Rebecca Good, principals and assistant principals are now expected and encouraged to be more than just logistical managers of the physical plant of the school and of the conduct of the students and adults within its walls (a job in and of itself!). Principals and assistant principals must now embrace the larger concept of instructional leadership.
Thus, the central dilemma faced by the modern school leader: are you an instructional leader or a manager? In Stephen Covey's world of time management quadrants, quadrants one and three (urgent activities that are either important or not so much) consume so much of a school leader's time—emergencies, student behavior issues, the constant barrage of phone calls and e-mails, and more.
How can you, as a leader, rise above the minutiae of daily management to focus on the long-term, not urgent, but ultimately vital curriculum and instruction items that will move your students and your building to a higher place? When you consider each world separately, it soon becomes clear that management and instructional leadership need not be mutually exclusive after all.
The First Hat: Principals as Managers
The current trend may be to view "management" as a dirty word, but the effective management of facilities and budgets is included in every set of school leadership standards. Despite moving away from management in literature and the language, effective management is still as relevant as ever. The current Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) relegate "Operations and Management" to standard nine of ten, but stress the importance of the management of fiscal resources, data, and student behavior in being an effective leader.
Perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of the continuing importance of management comes from organizational change expert, W. Warner Burke, who reminded us that organizations can ultimately survive without what we might call transformational leadership, but cannot survive without competent management.
Think of the school that isn't the most instructionally innovative, but has a firm, consistent leadership team. The school may not thrive, but it certainly won't fall apart, either.
The Second Hat: Principals as Instructional Leaders
The "new" model of educational leadership is the principal as an instructional leader. Effective principals and assistant principals are strong teachers, coaches, and mentors in their own right. They place their focus on developing a shared vision and mission for the school and work to develop and maintain an instructional climate of excellence.
In the Covey vein, Julie Adams identified seven habits of highly effective instructional leaders:
- Understand and utilize neuroscience to help teachers and the school make things like classroom instruction and routines developmentally appropriate
- Serve as the lead learners of a building by staying connected, engaged, and current
- Support both content knowledge and understanding
- Listen to, collaborate with, and support both new and experienced teachers
- Encourage and facilitate peer observation and coaching opportunities
- Model and practice professional reflection strategies in order to promote a growth mindset with regard to primary teacher instruction
- Tailor administrative support to the needs of teachers
Walking the Line and Wearing Both Hats
Ultimately, the effective school leader is a person able to embrace a seamless dual role—that of leader-manager. Again, although it isn't considered trendy, all models of instructional leadership incorporate principles of solid management.
The Wallace Foundation provided a comprehensive list of leadership behaviors that include establishing a shared vision, creating the right climate for learning, and developing the leadership of others, to name a few. Item number five on the list? "Managing data, people, and processes."
Leadership and management go hand in hand. The following are a few practical examples.
My "daily grind" items—behavior management and compliance items, attendance letters, routine paperwork, etc.—go on my calendar. I plan weekly and assign routine items to specific times of specific days so I can complete my routine work on a tight, efficient schedule. This leaves me more time to walk the halls, stop by classrooms or the cafeteria to observe learning, have conversations with students, and to attempt to appear to be everywhere at once.
Additionally, every management responsibility is a leadership opportunity. When I am asked to contribute items to a weekly newsletter or a staff meeting, I will usually try to share (or ask a teacher to share) an article, instructional strategy, or something else related to classroom instruction.
Start Small: First Steps Toward Becoming a Leader-Manager
As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. You have likely faced this quandary in the classroom: you want to differentiate your instruction for student learning or institute project-based learning, understanding by design, or some other instructional best practice, and you want to do it all at once.
You convince yourself that you must plan for the desired change in every unit, every lesson, every day—and it must happen now! This is certainly a laudable goal, and one has to admire and applaud the desire to institute such change, but is it practical?
A better approach, said differentiation guru Carol Ann Tomlinson, is to start small. Just like a teacher doesn't have to differentiate everything all at once to be successful in the classroom, you don't have to automatically walk on water as the perfect leader-manager.
Embrace a growth mindset and start with one aspect of your daily routine—cafeteria duty, a weekly newsletter, or student discipline—and embrace it as a leadership task, talking with and coaching students or providing professional development in collaboration with teachers within the management task itself. Instead of chiding yourself for being too managerial, embrace management as an essential part of instructional leadership and you will be well on your way.