What Traits Make a Great Principal?

Here’s a great article on traits that make a great school leader – http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/what-makes-a-great-principal-an-audio-slide-show/

But in working with faith-based schools, I wonder how one can earn the title “great principal” if their school’s enrollment has been slowly shrinking over the past decade.  Before you jump to the conclusions of “economic conditions, changing demographics, or changing parental attitudes,” there are school leaders who have had a history of increasing enrollment at their school while dealing with the negative side of these three attributes since there can also be a positive side to all three as well.  That’s one reason why this site emphasizes the word “ion” in it’s title  An ion can be a positively-charged atom or a negatively-charged atom.   In the same way that changing economic conditions, changing demographics and changing parental attitudes can cause enrollment shrink, they can also cause enrollment growth.

In these post-pandemic days, there are a number of stories about faith-based schools seeing an increase in enrollment.  This phenomenon also has a number of reasons – faith-based schools offered in-person instruction when public schools closed when the pandemic hit; parents in public schools are become disenfranchised with gender classification issues; or parents have finally decided that it’s worth their while to pay for a faith-based value system for their children because they finally saw what their children were learning (or not learning) in the public schools.  It’s not so much that the teachers didn’t do their jobs; it was that parents needed to be engaged with the learning, and, since parents are the primary teachers of their children, what they were learning wasn’t congruent with what they wanted their children to learn.

If you read the linked article again, you’ll see that none of the attributes of a great principal deal with instructing the students.  They are to create an environment where children feel safe and rules and consequences are clear.  They also are engaged if a student is having trouble.

Yet, there are principals who are considered great principals because they’re the first line of defense if a teacher calls in sick.  And teachers are around sick kids…a lot…which causes them, every now and then, to catch some of those viruses that parents send their children to school with.  The principal’s place is NOT in the classroom…unless they’re observing a teacher, evaluating their performance and making suggestions to improve student performance, creating an environment where inspired learning can take place, and fostering a community of acceptable social behavior where individual expression is permitted, but not to the point of derailing the overall goals of the school.

If a teacher loves teaching, they should continue to be a teacher.  A principal needs to love leading.  There are some teachers who become upset when they get additional certifications in order to be hired, but then find that they’re assigned to classes they don’t want to be assigned to, even though they’re certified to teach those subjects.  In the same way, teachers should not aspire to be principals if they enjoy teaching.  With that love of leading comes the responsibility to sacrifice all those things that went along with teaching students.  Great principals can still teach…but they are to teach the teachers, and that includes teaching them how to lead so they can continue the tradition of excellent leadership, rather than leaving a hole to fill.

Isn’t it interesting that before the pandemic, there were an abundance of teachers.  Today, where did that abundance go?