In a recent post adapted from Kate Rousmaniere’s The Principal’s Office, The Principal: The Most Misunderstood Person in All of Education in The Atlantic describes the evolution of the principal since the early 1900’s. As a current school principal, and a veteran principal of 14 years, I was able to make connections with this post and I was also able to see how other people have formed opinions of the principal’s role over time. That being said, there was one particular point I disagreed with in the article.
Kate Rousmaniere points out in her post that, “Most contradictory of all, the principal has always been responsible for student learning, even as the position has become increasingly disconnected from the classroom.” If anything, I believe that skilled leaders are working harder than ever to stay connected to classrooms and students.
Within the current state of education, which has seen some of the greatest upheaval ever, it is true that the principal continues to be responsible for student learning. That should not change. Schools need strong leadership in principals to help navigate changes and keep a steady focus on why we are here; children and learning.
There are many ways to stay connected both in and out of the school house, which ultimately, keeps principals connected to classrooms. As an educator, I have the good fortune to connect through my PLN with many other administrators, principals, teachers and educators using social media such as Twitter, LinkedIN, Facebook and About.me. The rise of technology as a tool for professional development helps many of us not be disconnected from the classroom.
Twitter alone provides a forum where other educators raise questions, share experiences, and offer advice. Contrary to the belief that principals are disconnected from classrooms, these fellow educators continue to keep me connected to my own school’s classrooms through their advice, questioning and insights into best practice and education reform. I often find myself reflecting on my own work and learning more that I bring back to my school, to my classrooms, and to my students.
Within my school, I am continually tethered to classrooms, teachers, and most importantly, students. My goal is to know as many students in the school as possible and to know something about each one. Parents and staff often comment on how many of the 500 students I know. There are times when I’m surprised myself, as to how much I know about the kids in my school. I can often be found greeting students at arrival and dismissal, visiting them during lunch, interacting with them in the hallways, and in class, asking them what they are learning about, reading, and working on. My assistant principal and I also have lunch with twelve students every two weeks as well. We are thoughtful and intentional in the ways we stay connected to students.
It is also very important to me that I know what my staff are teaching children. The intent of knowing is not about micromanaging, but as a way to support learning. That may happen through walk-throughs, observations, participating in professional development with teachers, and talking to students when I visit classrooms. My connectedness to learning helps me keep my focus so that I support both students and teachers.
Do I think it is easy to become disconnected from classrooms? Absolutely! The demands of the principalship are such that I could be in meetings frequently, interacting with staff outside of the classroom, and doing paperwork and reading responding to emails continually throughout my day. So what can I and other administrators do to stay connected to classrooms and student learning? My recommendations would be:
Only check emails a few times a day. I often check in the morning, part way through my day and again at the end of the day. I hate to say it, but even with the huge amounts of email I get, they can wait. Kids and teachers should come first.
Block out time in your schedule to visit classrooms. Other things may come up, however, if you don’t start with time blocked out, you’ll have no time as something else will always fill your schedule. Ask kids what they are learning when you visit. Also find time to follow up with teachers to ask questions about their work. They want to know you are interested and that you support them.
Participate in professional development with teachers and staff. There is no way that with the pace of change in education, that you can remain connected to classroom learning if teachers go off to PD and you don’t participate. This not only helps build your credibility with teachers, it helps you understand the demands they face each day with the work they do.
Be a part of a PLN. Connectedness can not be seen as only within the “four walls” of a school house in the 21st century! I learn lots from my PLN, often times, sharing great ideas and musings through retweeting. You don’t need to be the most tech savvy person in the world either. Start small and you’ll learn and grow. Make connecting with your PLN a part of your daily routine.
Communicate with the greater school community regularly. This really does make sure you are connected with your school and classrooms. Parents and families want to know what you’re doing as a school leader and communicating that work means that you have to know what is going on within classrooms and your school.
No principal enters into their leadership role with the intent on becoming disconnected. The demands of the job are such that it could happen easily though. By actively engaging in the role of educational leaders, I hope that principals and school administrators work in ways that provide a level of transparency to the public and the school communities that they serve. By doing so, it will help with public perception and contribute to the position being more understood, and while doing that, it will help maintain a level of connectedness to students. After all, isn’t that why we do the work of the principal?