I recently attended my daughter’s probate which was the culminating ceremony for her induction into a sorority which she worked really hard to become a member of. She is now a part of a national / international sisterhood of sorors. As I watched the probate, I couldn’t help but think about the principalship. Yes, I drew a connection between the broad sisterhood of sororities and the broad brotherhood of fraternities to the “fraternity” of the principalship. Sororities and fraternities are the embodiment of vast lifelong bonds rooted in a commonality of membership, belongingness, commitment, sisterhood / brotherhood and purpose. As I stood there and watched the ceremony, I thought the exact same thoughts for the principalship.
I served as a principal for fourteen years. I remember vividly and dearly the “blood, sweat and tears” of principal leadership. As much as I loved it and as rewarding (and enjoyable) as it was, I will never conclude that it was easy work. It was quite challenging to say the least. The principalship is constant “heavy-lifting.” So when I see other principals in action, I instantaneously relate to them, identify with them, “feel their pain,” “feel their successes,” and in many cases, feel a kinship to them. We as principals are also a “fraternity” of sorts. There’s a bond there that the non-principal may never really understand.
I will be the first to admit that the principalship is not for everyone (just as being a member of a sorority or fraternity is not for everyone). It is a special position that not everyone is built for. It requires so, so much of an individual on so, so many levels. Following are a hand full of examples (that by no means are meant to be exhaustive).
The principal wears countless hats in the span of any given 30-minute block of time throughout the course of a school day…and the principal is expected to “wear each of those hats” quite well simultaneously.
The principal is expected to have immediate answers and solutions for every issue that arises in a school. And although this expectation isn’t realistic, there are staff, students, parents, central office personnel and community members who expect immediate answers and solutions nevertheless.
Everything that could possibly happen or go wrong at any given moment in a school falls directly on the shoulders of the principal. As the leader of the school, the buck stops with the principal. Regardless of whether or not the principal is directly responsible for an occurrence that took place in the school for example, the principal is held accountable.
On top of all of the principal's numerous responsibilities, the principal is expected to be the instructional leader of the building. Student achievement is a direct reflection of the principal. Instructional leadership is therefore the principal’s primary responsibility and must therefore be made his / her number one priority (outside of school safety) and given maximum attention.
The principal is expected to be an expert in school law, school finance and the school curriculum. The principal cannot lead optimally if he / she lacks an expertise in each of the aforementioned.
The existing school climate and culture are a reflection of the principal too. What you “see, hear, feel and experience” in a school are a direct reflection of the principal’s leadership,
The principal must also be able to effectively navigate the politics of the school, the district, and the city / town in which the school is located....which is not always an easy endeavor….and definitely not taught in grad school, but another area that the principal must be truly adept.
Theoretically, the principal would like to please everyone but in all actuality, cannot. Someone somewhere will always be displeased. In fact, the principal will probably not be “loved” by EVERYONE. If the principal has a need to be loved by everyone, he / she is probably in the wrong business. The principal must therefore have and maintain “tough skin.”
Principals have families too but they devote so much of their time and energy to their schools that they sometimes (and for some often time) neglect their own families for the betterment of their students. They are constantly striving to strike a balance between school and life outside of school.
I could actually write forever about the role and challenges of the principal but I will stop here...(more coming soon in my next book, The ASPIRING Principal 50: Critical Questions for New and Future School Leaders – May, 2019) but I will end it with this...as mentioned above, the principalship isn’t only a job, profession, career or even a mission…it’s a “fraternity of school leadership”…a brotherhood…a sisterhood. In that vein, I promise you that as principals continue to seek ways to maximize their “membership” in this powerful “fraternity” of school leaders, the translation is a “win-win” for the students, staff, parents and communities that they lead.
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