Do We Really Need Principals? A Follow Up

A little while back I published a blog post questioning if we need principals in schools. In the days and weeks that followed I received a great deal of feedback on twitter, comments on the post and subsequent follow up blog posts others wrote in response. I have reflected at great length and still stand by my original question with a slight change…Do we need principals/administrators in the way we use them today?

Based on the feedback and my own reflection I do think we still need a leader in a building or at least a network of leaders in various roles. I think it could play out in a few ways but here are some initial thoughts on how we might change the current role of administrator to better suit the needs of schools and students. Yet, all of this is built upon the premise that a principal/administrator needs to be an instructional leader within their building.

·         Get them into a classroom – I am not referring to the fly-by drop in observations or the token waves from the hallway. I am talking about them actually teaching in a classroom…with kids. This could be done in a few different ways depending on level. If they are in a departmentalized environment, they could pick up one class to teach each term. In a primary level they could co-teach or pick up a section of a special. One of the biggest complaints I hear about administrators is their complete lack of connection with the classroom. Some have been out too long or have never really been “in” a classroom because they jumped up the ranks so fast. Teachers grumble at their decisions because they feel like they don’t know what they are talking about.
·         Term limits on administrators – This is a pretty simple concept but ties in nicely with the first point. Yes, there are some administrators that have been in the “front office” for many years and are still connected and in tune with the students and teachers. However, I think it is safe to say that is not the norm. Rather, the longer they are out, the more out of touch and distant they become as a natural consequence. I am not sure what the magic number is, but I would think having a five year limit and then being required to teach for two years before coming back might be a good place to start. Lyn Hilt also outlined a similar concept in a comment she left on a recent post by Jeff Delp.  Personally, I think this would elevate the instructional leadership potential within a building and have dramatic results.
·         Hire a manager – Much of what pulls an administrator away from being a true instructional leader in their building is the managerial items they get bogged down in. Why not hire an administrator who is simply in charge of the management piece? They do all the paperwork, scheduling, meetings, etc. Then dedicate one administrator to being a true instructional leader. As I mentioned in my previous post, I still think these two jobs could be done by a small group of teacher leaders as well. However, if we are going to work within the current system, then let’s shift some responsibilities around to best use our administrators.

It may be way to simplistic but if we want our administrators to be instructional leaders, which I think we do, then they can’t sit idly by in an office. I don’t see any better way of doing this than getting the metaphorical chalk back in hand and doing it in a classroom. As in my initial post, I still am not seeing a compelling argument for a need for administrators in their current roles. Yes, lots of people commented about them being a buffer and an advocate, but is that what we need administrators to be? If that’s the case then let’s call them managers and let the teachers do the instructional leading…

In closing, let’s be clear about one thing, I am not calling out all administrators and saying we need to get rid of them. However, I am calling out the way in which we as school districts use them within our schools. They have the potential to be so much more than paper chasers and disciplinarians. If you look at the great administrators you will rarely find them at a desk when the kids are in the building. Yet, they are burdened all night with paperwork and management items. In addition, if these are the individuals evaluating teacher effectiveness, how do we ensure they know that when they see it? How can we restructure this to allow all administrators that chance of being a true instructional leader?