Santa Cruz County
Don't Miss Out Local Resources Parent to Parent Get in Touch Get in Touch

Education: Principals

Parent Tips > Education, Schools & Tutors > Education: Principals

Jennifer Gonzalez Asks Teachers: What Makes a Principal Great?

Jennifer Gonzalez Asks Teachers: What Makes a Principal Great?

By Anthony Cody on December 20, 2013 5:40 PM


Two separate conversations are happening about education. The first I would call the "macro" conversation. I see it in places like this blog, where we debate reform, testing, and all the outside forces that impact the work teachers do. This is a crucial conversation to have and keep having.


But there's another one, the "micro" conversation, where individual teachers talk about their experiences in their specific schools. And though these teachers are discouraged and exhausted by the macro-level changes, those I talk to don't have much to say about Arne Duncan or the Gates Foundation. Most don't have time to keep up with that stuff. Way more often, they talk about their principals.


In every "micro" conversation I've had, the job satisfaction of the teacher is directly proportional to the effectiveness of their administrator. "She makes me despise my job," one teacher said about her principal. "She's a bully with everyone. She's insecure in her ability and then attacks if you question or offer advice." Another teacher says, "It's like he just can't get enough. I feel like all I ever do, at school and at home, is work. And it's never enough. My friends in other schools don't have it nearly this bad."


On the macro level, principals are rarely mentioned. I've read a few stories about brave principals who stood up for their teachers against harmful reforms, or some who have been ousted by radical parent groups, but I hear nothing about the day-to-day impact principals have on their teachers. It's as if there's a direct line that starts with reformers and government entities and ends with teachers. But along the way, in every district and every school, administrators bend that line, and the small, specific ways they bend it could be what makes all the difference.


When I suggest that principals aren't being scrutinized closely enough, the principals I know gape with indignation. "Are you kidding?" they ask. "We are the most scrutinized. Test scores, student achievement, all accountability measures ultimately fall on us."

Right. Test scores. That's just it. Test scores provide a tiny, and possibly inaccurate, snapshot of a school's strengths; they tell us nothing about the complex factors that contribute to them. If a school has good test scores, but still loses teachers every year, what good are those scores? A collective voice is rising that demands a more comprehensive route to school quality than the current test-and-punish system. And as we move closer to that path, we need to take a good, close look at how the actions of our principals impact the work of our teachers.  


To do that, we have to start talking to the people they impact most directly: the teachers.

The tools are already in place. In 2008, the Interstate School Leaders' Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) created six standards for educational leadership. Since then, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 40 states have adopted these standards for licensing and evaluating principals. If taken seriously, with teacher input, they could go a long way toward building better administrators.


For example, Standard 2A says leaders should "Nurture and sustain a culture of collaboration, trust, learning and high expectations." (Italics are mine.) This is an area many teachers point to when they talk about working conditions. Some say they don't trust their administrator, and rarely feel included in decision-making. In these schools, principals are failing on this standard. But current evaluation practices don't uncover that. If the assessment is made by a superintendent (who, in an increasing number of states, may have no teaching experience at all), or if teachers are consulted under conditions where they feel they can't be truthful, a principal could score high on this standard, even if he has a deficiency so pronounced, his teachers lose sleep over it.


Another one that needs a close look is Standard 3E: "Ensure teacher and organizational time is focused to support quality instruction and student learning." Plenty of teachers will tell you most of their time is spent performing tasks whose connection to quality instruction is questionable. But a principal could appear to be mastering this standard by arguing that more PLC meetings, more training, more data analysis is all in support of quality instruction and learning. The teachers would sing a different tune, but no one is asking them.


I will admit, I don't know exactly how principals are evaluated. Looking around online, the conclusion I reach is that inconsistency is the norm. Research in the state of Washington, for example, suggests that adoption of the ISLLC standards hasn't resulted in their consistent use in principal evaluation. In a 2011 summary of research on principal evaluation, Matthew Clifford and Steven Ross report that these evaluations are not conducted in any consistent way, and that by and large, principals see little value in them for their own professional growth.


What I do know is this: In my eight years of teaching, no one ever asked me, formally or informally, how effective any of my principals were. And when my colleagues had complaints, they handled it by venting to each other. Teachers want to keep their jobs. Most are not brave enough to approach their principals with a complaint. So nothing changes.


Most administrators are neither wholly effective nor wholly ineffective; the majority fall somewhere in between. And their job is arguably one of the most difficult in the country. I believe most principals want desperately to do a good job. But the people who have the most relevant, useful feedback - their own employees - don't have a safe vehicle for giving it to them.


I am conducting a survey on my website, Cult of Pedagogy, to learn more about the specific things effective and ineffective principals do to impact the work of their teachers. Teachers - both current and former - are encouraged to take the survey with specific administrators in mind; those who have had the most significant impact on your job satisfaction. In early 2014, I will compile the results and push this micro conversation where it should be, on the macro level.


What impact have principals had on your ability to teach well? Have you found ways to offer them feedback about their work? 

Jennifer Gonzalez is a National Board certified teacher who taught middle-school language arts for eight years and prepared teachers at the college level for four. In July of 2013, she launched Cult of Pedagogy, the website she always wished for when she was a teacher. On the site, she studies specific instructional strategies and theories of learning; reviews books, technology, and other resources; considers the connection between design and learning; and explores the social and emotional forces that influence the work of teachers.

Good Principals: What Traits Do They Share?

Good Principals: What Traits Do They Share?

Do you want to be a better principal? Maybe you're thinking about becoming a principal and wondering if you have what it takes.

Do you want to be a better principal? Maybe you're thinking about becoming a principal and wondering if you have what it takes.


A few weeks ago, Education World asked our Principal Files principals, What, do you think, are the most important traits of a good principal, a strong school leader?

This is what Ed World's P-Files principals had to say.


"Listening and understanding what you have heard is one of the most important traits of a strong principal," said Steven Podd, principal at Islip (New York) Middle School. "By listening to others, I can find ways to solve problems, help kids and parents, and support teachers."

A simple answer, it seems, added Podd. "But look around you. Notice how many people really listen to you when you speak. It's a critical skill!"


"Being a good listener is an important trait for administrators to possess," added Bonita Henderson, assistant principal at Pleasant Ridge School, a K-8 school in Cincinnati. "Children and teachers have important things to say, and a lot can be learned and gained from listening well to them."


Principal Bill Meyers agrees. "People do not always expect a principal to solve their problems," said Meyers, principal at Lincoln Elementary School in Sterling, Illinois. "Many times, they just need someone who will listen to their concerns. An effective administrator knows when it is appropriate to shut up and just listen."


Being "able to listen objectively with sincere eye contact" is essential, said Lucie Boyadjian, principal at Glen Oaks School in Hickory Hills, Illinois. "Listening conveys a caring attitude, and caring is a building block for trust," added Boyadjian. "The ability to build trust is an essential human relations skill that greatly facilitates interpersonal communications."


Mary Ellen Imbo, principal at Westwood Elementary School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, has been part of several committees charged with hiring administrators for Broken Arrow's 14 elementary schools. "As I've sat in on administrative interviews," said Imbo, "I've learned that listening skills are of utmost importance."


"We have put aside the authoritarian leader," added Imbo. "Today's principal needs to develop teacher leadership, promote parent involvement, facilitate site-based decision making, and make decisions in the best interest of all children. In order to accomplish all those things, a strong principal must be a good listener and flexible."



Ah, yes, flexibility, a most important quality according to Gary Cardwell, principal at Crockett Elementary School in Wichita Falls, Texas. "Principals must be flexible in their thought processes," he said, "for they will be asked to consider new ideas that might enhance the school's educational environment."


Flexibility is of utmost importance for other reasons too, added Cardwell. "A principal must be flexible in working with people. He or she must remember that teachers have problems, feelings, and sick kids at homeand a principal must be flexible to be able to handle the variety of situations that can develop instantaneously. Perhaps that means dealing with an angry parent or counseling a student who has just lost his mother."


The ability to work as a member of a team is an important leadership skill too. "In my school, there are four assistant principals," said Jesse Ballenger, assistant principal at Danbury (Connecticut) High School. "Therefore, camaraderie is key. We share ideas, we seek assistance from one another, we support one another, and we respect one another. Professional respect is important because [we are all] part of a team."



Keeping kids as the focus of every decision! "That's the one trait that makes a stand-out principal," said Jan Fortmann, principal at Holmen (Wisconsin) Middle School. "That might sound trite," added Fortmann, "but I have used this statement as my guiding force for years and it has never steered me wrong. I coach my teachers with this strategy, and they tell me that it keeps them focused on what their job is really all about."


Fortmann pointed to the work her school's scheduling committee recently took on. They needed to find a way to adjust the current schedule to include keyboarding instruction in grades 6 to 8. "It would have been easy just to say 'We need a keyboarding teacher and it's not my responsibility,'" said Fortmann. "When the committee realized that there would be no additional staff members allocated to the building, people rolled up their sleeves and figured out a way to make it happen."


When teachers always keep kids -- and the impact of their decisions on kids -- as their focus, the ultimate answers to many problems become more obvious.


"I know it has helped the kids I work with!" added Fortmann.


Making decisions based on the best interests of children can also help prolong a principal's career, according to Alan Rummel. "Not taking things personally" is one of the most important traits of a strong principal, said Rummel, principal at Delahunty Middle School in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. "Whether your decision rests well with others or not, you don't have to internalize the results -- even though we sometimes do -- if you make decisions based on the best interests of the children."


Maria Sells, the special education director for the Indiana Department of Correction, concurs. "A strong leader will stand up for what he or she believes is good and right for children and families," said Sells. "How can we expect teachers to make the best choices in educating our students if we, as administrators, do not model the dedication and passion for education that we want to see in them?"


For Sells, integrity is the key word. "Principals need to exhibit a strong sense of integrity," she said. "As a strong leader, you must 'say what you mean and mean what you say,' and then stand behind what you say."



The desire to be a "learner" is one of the most important traits of a good principal, said Helene Dykes, principal at Marian Bergeson Elementary School in Laguna Niguel, California. Principals don't know it all, according to Dykes. They don't have all the answers. But a principal who is always learning, a principal who is constantly growing, is likely to be a strong principal.

"I think if you view yourself as a learner, you are freed from being the sole dispenser of knowledge and wisdom," said Dykes. "You are also freed from feeling that you have to provide all the answers."


A principal who is always learning models what he or she hopes the whole school staff will become -- a learning community, said Dykes. She added, "Hopefully, that engenders a spirit of 'I'm not sure about that, let's work on it together.'" That kind of spirit benefits the entire school.


"A strong leader is one who never loses sight of the main educational vision and goal," said Sylvia Hooker, principal at Fairmount Alternative School in Newnan, Georgia.

Strong leaders never waiver from their quest to educate students and all who have contact with them, added Hooker. "They don't just facilitate, they design and implement, and they find appropriate resources to carry out and fund student-centered instructional programs to achieve those goals."


"A good leader offers all staff people the opportunity to improve," Hooker concluded. "They [have the ability to] bring out the best in the entire faculty by making marginal teachers better and better teachers the best. They bring reformation, restoration, and rejuvenation to the school and its staff."


"I believe the best principals can get teachers to do their personal best for children," concurred Dr. Lolli Haws, principal at Avery Elementary School in Webster Groves, Missouri. "One principal -- no matter how skilled, how child-focused, how positive -- cannot possibly create an excellent educational environment for every child in the school without the teachers.

"By demonstrating that I trust their judgment, have confidence in them, will acquire whatever resources they need, and will support them in their work, teachers will do their best and kids will benefit," added Haws. "I believe the best principals are able to instill confidence and autonomy and personal ownership of the teaching task in the staff so everyone is working for the same goal -- the quality education of every child."

What makes a great principal - and why few want the job

What makes a great principal - and why few want the job

Caroline Alphonso AND James Bradshaw - EDUCATION REPORTERS

The Globe and Mail

Published Tuesday, Feb. 25 2014, 8:46 PM EST


If the job of a principal conjures up visions of Principal Seymour Skinner chasing Bart Simpson, the reality couldn't be further. Rather than the disciplinarians of the past, today's principals have to know and help every student, cope with parental and political demands and ensure that their school scores highly on standardized tests. It's no wonder the appeal of the job is declining.


"The research for the last 20 years is quite clear, teachers are not attracted to the principalship," says Paul Newton, an associate professor at the University of Alberta who has researched the role of the school leader. "Principals were always responsible for ensuring efficient management of the school, but, increasingly, the principal has become responsible for the academic achievement of students. This is not an insignificant shift."


Principal Lorraine Kinsman, head of Cranston School, which she helped open four years ago in Calgary, has experienced how complex the job can be. She expected to run the school, set up timetables and monitor the day-to-day happenings. Instead, she also has to contend with the involvement of parents, the community, the school board and the province. "Instead of just knowing six courses of study, I now need to know 575 children, and all of the options that are available to them," she says.


Ms. Kinsman is among 40 principals honoured by the Learning Partnership as Canada's best in a role that clearly has some exceptional leaders. But over all, school boards are having a difficult time recruiting new people to the leadership ranks. Studies show that school systems in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States are struggling to recruit teachers to become principals, and research suggests vacancies are expected to climb.


In Ontario, the number of educators receiving their principal qualifications dropped from 1,056 in 2003 to 590 last year, according to data from the Ontario College of Teachers. A spokesman for Alberta Education says school superintendents have indicated a greater challenge than in the past in recruiting teachers to become principals.


In spite of those numbers, great principals can make a huge difference in the lives of students and their communities.


"I like helping people solve problems, whether it's a staff member or a student or a family," says John-Paul Elliott, the principal at St. Joseph Catholic School in Gananoque, Ont. "And then when you finally see some success, you know, ... you finally see somebody moving forward, it's very motivating."


To become a principal in Ontario, an educator needs at least five years of teaching experience, although most have more, as well as certification that includes the principal's qualification program.


Lately, the role has become more political. Although test scores are not used to penalize a principal, leaders whose schools don't fare well are still scrutinized and questioned by parents and politicians.


"The increased hours, responsibility and public scrutiny are not compensated for by minimal salary increases," says Prof. Newton, who is about to publish a paper on this topic. "Most teachers would prefer to remain in teaching roles than transition into administrative positions." He added that this is particularly acute in remote parts of Canada that have long faced a shortage of school administrators.


In Alberta, the average salary for a teacher with 10 years' experience is about $92,000; and at the top end of the scale, teachers could earn as much as $99,000. A principal at the top end of the scale in Alberta would earn about $99,000, with an "allowance" of between $20,000 and $45,000. Principals in Ontario are on the province's annual sunshine list, earning more than $100,000 annually. Teachers at the top end of the scale earn more than $90,000.

Prof. Newton argues that while principals have always been responsible for the management of school, lately they've taken on an additional task of student achievement. When organizations like the Fraser Institute rank schools based on test scores, provincial governments see principals as key agents in educational improvement efforts and, as Prof. Newton says, "an easy target" when a school is not faring well. The research, however, "is less than conclusive with respect to the impact that principals have on student learning," he adds.


But Andrea McAuley, who is in her fourth year as principal at R.H. Cornish Public School in Port Perry, Ont., and among this year's winners, says "changing the trajectory of outcomes" for students is what keeps her energized. "The role of principal enables us to keep one hand front-line for our students, so we see the individual faces and can support in individual conversations with kids, but also have a wider connection to systemic change," she says.

John Hamilton, president-elect at the Ontario Principals' Council and a principal for the last 10 years, says not only are principals taking on the responsibility of student achievement, they also see an increasing number of students coming to them for help with mental-health issues. Mr. Hamilton, the principal at Sunderland Public School in Brock, Ont., says he and his colleagues spend a lot of their time helping children with emotional needs.


"You're trying to manage a global landscape in an educational setting," he says. "None of the issues that we are expected to deal with are bad things, they are good things. But what is our role? It becomes difficult to define it when you're being pulled in a lot of different directions."


The Secrets of a Principal Who Makes Things Work

September 25, 2011

The Secrets of a Principal Who Makes Things Work


One columnist's idea of a good principal:


A good principal has been a teacher.

While Ivy Leaguers in their 20s can now become principals, Jacqui Getz, 51, the new principal of Public School 126, a high-poverty school in Chinatown, came up the old way. This is her third principal position, but before that, she was a teacher for nine years and an assistant principal for four. It's hard for principals to win over teachers if they haven't been one.

"You're the principal," Ms. Getz said, "but you have to know how a teacher feels and how a teacher thinks."


A good principal feels at home in a cafeteria filled with 800 children eating rubbery scrambled eggs for breakfast.

At Table 510, Ms. Getz discussed "Maniac McGee" with Beckie Zheng; at Table 500, Hula-Hoops with Annika Dalland. At Table 220, Ms. Getz spotted a second grader, eyes closed, resting his head on his arms, and brought him a box of Raisin Bran with a carton of milk. "You need to eat," she whispered.


A good principal has her own style.

"He wants to meet you," said a third-grade girl, who was holding her little brother's hand. From where the children stood, Ms. Getz must have looked like the Eiffel Tower. She wears heels because she believes tall principals have an edge. As she walks, her bracelets clink, her heels click. Before they see her, students know Ms. Getz is coming around the corner.

A good principal protects her teachers from the nonsense.

"I want my people to feel I have their backs," she said.


Last year, the city's Education Department put into effect its 32-variable equation that looks like a chemical configuration for rocket fuel but is actually a formula concocted to rate teachers based on student test scores.


It was degrading for teachers, and Ms. Getz has signaled she is not a believer. "How can this formula tell me about the teacher in front of me?" she said. Under state regulations, test scores can count for up to 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation. "These tests are so unreliable; I wouldn't count them 10 percent, 8 percent, 1 percent," she said. "You don't want teachers feeling belittled; you want them to keep their dignity so they can be at their best."

A good principal sets her own high standards.

Many are the ways Ms. Getz evaluates teachers. She regularly visits classrooms. She looks at the written materials they send to families and the administration. She watches them during group planning sessions with other teachers. She studies their lesson plans and notices how they maintain their rooms, when they show up for meetings and whether they take notes. She looks to see how they organize themselves for the day and the records they keep. She listens to parents.


Ms. Getz wants to know whether teachers continually challenge themselves, have the power of reflection, make intellectual connections and are curious about the art of teaching. Some of what she's hunting for, she can describe only vaguely: "There's something at the core of a good teacher that kids get, and makes them feel safe and relaxed."


A good principal works with union leaders to carry out her educational agenda, and if she can't, takes them on.

At four of the five schools where Ms. Getz has been a supervisor, relations have been good. At the other, union members had taken over school advisory committees, undercutting her. She worked around them until they quit in frustration.


Still, she believes teachers need unions, saying, "Some schools are very hard on teachers." Said Barry Greenberg, the P.S. 126 chapter leader, "We're glad she's here."


A good principal knows teachers are only part of what make a school run.

Her first week on the job, Ms. Getz was invited by Aixa Torres, president of the tenants' association of the 2,000-unit housing project across the street, to come to one of its meetings. "The same day, she came," Ms. Torres said. "She's on the mark."

Ms. Getz brings in Diet Cokes for Margaret Javor, the longtime school secretary, but that's not what won her over. "I like that she compliments my work ethic," Ms. Javor said.


A good principal takes money out of her pocket for the school.

Against all odds, Ms. Getz was determined to make the principal's office an inviting place for children. She bought bookcases from Ikea and stacked them with hundreds of books from her home that children and teachers could borrow.


Recently, Ms. Getz interrupted a meeting she was having with department managers, and in marched three little girls looking for books. The girls got the books, and the managers got the point.


A good principal loves and trusts the public schools where she works.

Ms. Getz's husband is also a principal, at East Side Middle School. Her mother is still teaching at the Center School, and all three of her children have attended New York City public schools.


A good principal worries in private, ignores the surreal and finds a way to get things done.

The department judges them by student test scores and school progress report grades. Many nights, Ms. Getz wakes at 3 a.m. full of worries. "And then I say, I am not going to let them do this to me," she said.


A few weeks before, the Education Department had sent principals a packet explaining the progress report grading system. It was titled, "New Templates Clarify Scoring and Metrics." An example of template clarification: "The percent of range is the share of the comparison range covered by the school's result, used to determine the share of points earned."


Because of budget cuts, P.S. 126's sixth grades have gone to 30 students per class from 20 last year, but Ms. Getz does not dwell on it. "I think of how to do," she said, "with what I have."


A good principal has a To Do list several feet long.

Excerpts from Ms. Getz's list from last weekend: Start to plan Performance Assessment Tasks. Rough draft of Principal Performance Review. Plan out first-grade social studies School Study. Review fifth-grade first unit of social studies. Read and respond to GOAL sheets of all staff. Make new templates for Danielson observations .Write weekly family letter. Review professional text math book. Analyze Progress Report. Do feedback Post-its for teachers from informal visits this week.


A good principal leads by example.

School ended at 2:50 that day, but at 5, when Sabrina Bassett, a special-education teacher, came into the office with a question about a mapping lesson, Ms. Getz was there. And at 5:30, when Ian Lambert, a fourth-grade teacher, poked his head in to discuss a spelling curriculum he was putting together, Ms. Getz was still there.

What makes a good principal? This is what you told us

What makes a good principal? This is what you told us


Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Feb. 28 2014, 12:00 PM EST


My principal is my mentor. I am a Guidance department head. He has shown me how to see the big picture and not get caught up in the details. He is flexible, creative, approachable, and listens. He has a vision and a plan that is inclusive and based on what is best for students...refreshing in a unionized environment that has lost this focus and puts teachers first. - Sharon Smyth, Markham, Ont.


I have always been a bit of a different learner and that was particularly true when I was a child. I had a lot of difficulty participating in classroom discussions (I never really got over that). But, my elementary school principal encouraged an open approach to education in his school. For me, that resulted in my being allowed to go to the school library during class time to conduct my own research into areas of my own interest. I would then write up reports, or sometimes stories. Later principals and teachers were less accepting of my different learning style, and I eventually dropped out of high school as a result. But, I was given sufficient positive experiences with education as a child that I eventually finished high school through correspondence, then went on to university. I now have a B.A., LL.B. and LL.M, and teach law. - Brian Parker, Port Moody, B.C.


In my opinion, good principals do many things. They are fair and empathetic with their staff, they have vision, and they have an obvious passion for making things better for their students that inspires those who work for them. Principals have quite a lot on their plate but those who live what they expect will, I feel, always get the best results. The first principal I worked with was inspiring because he was rarely in the office. He rode the buses, coached sports and helped teachers organize field trips. He was always looking for activities in and out of the school that could enrich the lives of the students at his schools. He spent his own money and gave hundreds of extra hours organizing and taking students on canoe trips that every student remembers as the highlight of their time at the school. He filtered the nonsense that is passed to teachers from above, and gave us the autonomy needed to be effective in our classes. He rarely had to tell the staff what was expected. He challenged us with his example and his staff rose to the challenge. - Cory Keeler, Kingston, Ont.


The principal in my daughter's school while she was growing up was awesome. She was firm but caring. Always put action with a consequence - positive and negative. A school is really run top down and when the principal and office staff make you feel welcome, the teachers do as well. - Michelle Jackson, Edmonton, AB.


A good principal exhibits compassionate enlightenment: They are as welcoming of critical thought and input from subordinates as they are proficient in its practice. They won't allow common sense to be subverted by what in some administrators' hands seems like a slavish parroting of our industry's most recent learning and teaching fads. They will actually listen to subordinates thereby affording us at least the impression that we matter. Finally, a good principal understands that effective communication, the very same that they encourage teachers to establish with students, must be ongoing and not limited to such things as official appraisals. - Charlie Sager, Ottawa, Ont.


I had a principal in my elementary school who had a huge impact on my life. He saw leadership potential in me during my final year, and encouraged me in a positive direction, the likes of which no other principal ever bothered to do. I owe much of my success to that individual. - Peter Ryan, Montreal, Que.


The ability to multitask yet be totally centred on the person/issue at hand for however long it takes. I observed a principal handling several issues with a child or teacher as she walked down the school hallway and was dealing with me as well. Amazing. - Rusty Joerin, Qualicum Beach, B.C.


Quite simply, a good principal recognizes that they are not doing the job alone. They have a team of talent in their building and the job they have to do is to bring out the best in every single person in that building. Every teacher, child, parent, support staff and so on has so much to share and the principal lets them know it is safe to do that. That is what a good administrator does. Schools that move forward have these kinds of principals. Schools that stall have principals that focus on self-promotion. - Mary MacLaughlin, St. Catherines, Ont.

local sponsors
• Look for these same great services in other cities under ParentClick •