When the principal’s load is too heavy …

Dysfunction on a school board or in a superintendent’s office or at the state level impacts what goes on in the classroom, but the quality of teachers is what matters most, and the principal of a school is charged with ensuring that quality. Sometimes it seems that a principal’s load is simply too great to attend to some crucial aspects of the job – immediate crises of all kinds demand the attention that should be devoted to ensuring teacher growth.

Yet teachers need to talk with each other if they are to grow. Principals need to make a priority of regularly gathering teachers together in varying configurations for clear purposes – curriculum development, monitoring student progress, conducting internal research, discussing the connection between daily work and the end purpose of education. These kinds of meetings encourage teachers to grow. If a principal neglects this central part of the work then teacher quality will gradually decline.

Teachers need the stimulation of meaningful collegial work to become the best they can be. In too many schools teachers are left to work behind closed doors and when they do come together it is for brief, rushed  meetings. To begin with, scheduling time for these meetings is vital, and this is the time of year when school leaders should begin thinking about scheduling for next year. You can’t effectively address issues of curriculum, student growth, and best practice if care is not taken to carve out time in the schedule for these conversations.

School boards and central administration should work on policies that help principals create time for structured, focused dialogue between members of the educational staff. In schools where principals find it impossible to work out a schedule that includes this time they should ask for help from others. Similarly, if they are unable to attend to creating the agendas for the meetings then they should delegate this work to others. Ideally an assistant principal would be charged with developing this aspect of ensuring teacher quality.

Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.