Article Reaction: Are Good Principals Necessary?

It actually wasn’t an article but a quote by former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I am not a fan of Arne Duncan – at all – but the quote made me stop and think about effective principals. Many of the comments regarding the quote were also very interesting and I was surprised by the fact that more people replied that they don’t believe good principals are necessary. 

In my opinion, good principals are probably the most important piece in the giant puzzle that makes up a school. What makes a good principal is, of course, going to be different for everyone but there are a few qualities that I think we can all agree on.

1.A good principal needs to be flexible

Principals need to be good at stepping in and redirecting teachers efforts when necessary but also know when to leave a teacher alone. Every teacher is different and brings a different viewpoint and approach which makes this characteristic very difficult to attain.

Principals are human of course and arrive at schools with their own opinions and agendas and experiences but the best ones know that they cannot micromanage every detail. If something is working, even if you don’t like it, why change it?

On the flip side, when a teacher struggles, a principal needs to support and help that teacher work through problems. Forcing lots of new methods or bullying a teacher into professional development isn’t flexibility nor is it helpful.

2. A good principal doesn’t micromanage

Any good manager doesn’t micromanage but principals especially can feel the weight of the world on their shoulders and think that if they don’t manage every detail things will fall apart.

No one wants to work for a principal that scrutinizes every detail of a teacher’s classroom or requires bizarre lesson plans. A great school environment doesn’t exist with a principal that changes tons of procedures for things that don’t need changing – such as school dismissal procedures. If it was working, not liking it doesn’t excuse making an unnecessary change.

And it doesn’t feel good to have a principal say, “You had 30 more seconds before the bell rang. You need to be teaching bell to bell,” rather than focusing on the whole lesson and the teaching methods used.

A school is a community and principals have their place and that place isn’t in the business of every single employee.

3. A good principal once worked in the classroom too

This may be more controversial of an opinion but the best principals know what it is like in the classroom. If they have experienced a lesson gone wrong, a massive student disengagement, or personal dramas in the classroom. They are going to be more sympathetic to the process of fixing it.

Teachers have bad days. Sometimes, teachers have horrible days. And sometimes teachers have good days that their principals pick on them about it. Sure Jack drawing a picture in his notebook while you were lecturing but is that really a horrible thing? Was the lecture good? Were the other students learning? Frankly, maybe Jack was learning. Some students learn best when you let them doodle in their notebooks.

A good principal is aware that sometimes teaching doesn’t look good and know it is best to let the little things go for the bigger picture.


These all summarize into this: principals are the school leaders but they have to let teachers do their job. Principals cannot be tyrannts that jam new methods down teachers throats and do not unnecessarily change school procedures. But they play an important role in observing and holding teachers accountable.


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