Principal Leadership and the Instructional Challenges of School Administration

       The principal is the de facto leade...
impact of disassociating school leadership from the environment which it impacts. This is why “in

the view of many analys...
mediating responsibilities of the position, the leading state agency for defining resource and policy

standards denotes t...
primary intent of always improving the educational, instructional and cultural experiences greeting

students day to day. ...
pressures which denote the need for a principal to develop a clear base of support from within

the school. The challenges...
support will translate into an effective staff which maintains the principal’s vision and standards of

efficacy.

       ...
Florida Department of Education (FLDOE). (2008). Florida Principal Leadership Standards.
        Florida Department of Edu...
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Standard 2 Essay

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  1. 1. Principal Leadership and the Instructional Challenges of School Administration The principal is the de facto leader of the public school. With this role comes no small degree of pressure and responsibility. And as the nature of education changes and evolves, so too does this role and that which is implied by it. In many ways though, there remains a great philosophical divide on how principal leadership is to be pursued. To the perspective of this discussion, this divide is based on varying conceptions of how leadership and education might best be integrated for the office. In the midst of this divide, which is very much linked to a negative political culture across the last decade defined by highly standardized methods of testing for both student and school proficiency, schools in the United States in particular have generally experienced a decline in standards, in performance and in personnel commitment is evidenced throughout the field. To many theorists in the last decade, this is indicative of a core problem relating to the orientation and distribution of leadership. This is especially a challenge for the principal, whose leadership responsibilities are inherent but who faces myriad obstacles to the effectiveness of this leadership. Overly centralized ways of designing curriculum, of engaging students and of evaluating performance of teachers and students, some will argue, has had the
  2. 2. impact of disassociating school leadership from the environment which it impacts. This is why “in the view of many analysts, the task of transforming a school is too complex for one person to accomplish alone. Consequently, a new model of leadership is developing.” (Lashway, 2002, p. 6) This new model is something that developing school principals and serving principals alike must prepare for. The leadership of the school administration or principalship is often looked upon as the sole determining factoring the curricular standardization and approach which pervades a learning institution. As Graseck’s (2005) article reveals, the perceived singularity of this leadership is both a product of a fundamental misapprehension of the opportunities for in- school leadership and may be a contributor to a negative educational experience all around. At the heart of Graseck’s model for administrative leadership is the notion that too much vested authority in this position will tend to create what he refers to as a ‘wall,’ which reinforces an improper notion that administration exists above principalship and teaching on a hierarchical scale. A perception which may be shared by both parties, it is likely to cause an improperly aloof administrative approach to leadership which is more dominated by bureaucracy than a true and inquiring interest in the improvement of education. Equally as destructive, such an attitude imperils the security of the teaching faculty, which tends to respond to being undervalued with resentment, occupational antipathy and diminished morale. This points to the relevance of the principal’s role as an organizational leader with responsibilities to orienting with enthusiasm and effectiveness a staff of qualified and capable individuals. It is with this in mind that the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) offers the term High Performing Leader to capture the set of characteristics expected of a principal. Defining the leadership attributes that are acknowledged as most suited to the practical, administrative and
  3. 3. mediating responsibilities of the position, the leading state agency for defining resource and policy standards denotes that the principle must be skilled in a wide array of organizational capacities. As the standards note, “high Performing Leaders manage the organization, operations, facilities and resources in ways that maximize the use of resources in an instructional organization and promote a safe, efficient, legal, and effective learning environment.” (FLDOE, 1) This is, of course, a broad and encompassing task which will demand a positive and functional relationship that flows through the principal both in the direction of faculty and staff and in the direction of administration, policy-makers and the community. This establishes the role of the principal in terms of the school’s instructional effectiveness as being among the more complex of organizational leadership positions. That stated, it must still be recognized that utmost among the goals and responsibilities of the principal should be those relating to the experience of students. Indeed, it must be denoted that schools exist and function with the needs of students foremost amongst a list of community and social priorities. Therefore, even as we have elaborated on the notion of a role which is implicated by many external interests and pressures, these should all be considered as needing to be shaped to the overarching priorities effecting students. As The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) denotes in its most recent edition of the Educational Leadership Policy Standards (2008), this is the defining preoccupation for the school principle. To the point, the preamble to the standards “discusses the high-profile demands placed on education leaders to raise student achievement and the role that policy standards can play in helping them meet these growing expectations.” (CCSSO, 1) This is to illustrate that the various elements of the position which demand the principle’s attention in terms of public pressure, resource availability, administrative resistance and community perception are all to be considered as secondary or contributory to the
  4. 4. primary intent of always improving the educational, instructional and cultural experiences greeting students day to day. It is thus that the principle can be anticipated to have a formative role in the characteristics and identity permeating a school and its educational effectiveness. This is stated with some simplification though. Given the political tenor facing many educational institutions—strapped for economic resources in a time of recession and reeling academically due to a decade of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) testing penalties, it is important to recognize that there is a dilemma which centrally impacts the authority and leadership opportunities for the principal. The presumption that more effectively distributed leadership will ultimately produce positive performance outcomes for a school is underscored by heretofore existent positive evidence as to the impact of effective leadership overall as a determinant of student outcomes. According to Spillane (2003), “over the past few decades researchers have consistently reported that school leadership, principal leadership in particular, is critical in developing and sustaining those school-level conditions believed essential for instructional improvement.” (Spillane, 343) Indeed, for educators, the heightened emphasis on the opportunity for contribution at the highest levels can improve motivation and individual ingenuity. To this end, there is cause to infer that the outcome of an instructionally-centrist leadership approach for the principal will be to improve the quality of a school overall. For teachers and other staff members who are given the opportunity to offer their skills at the leadership level, the framework will accommodate greater innovation, personal stake and perspective variance. All of these may be argued to promote the advancement of school quality as an experience for both student and educator. It is thus that the research here directs the fix of our attention toward the external
  5. 5. pressures which denote the need for a principal to develop a clear base of support from within the school. The challenges inherent in the No Child Left Behind legislation have compromised the ability of principals to lead effectively from within. The implications of externally shaped standards and performance consequences are undermining to the capacity of the principal and his or her faculty to lead in the shaping of curriculum, philosophy and evaluation. Some of the research available on the subject demonstrates the need to develop a clear strategic approach to leadership in the face of such pressures. To this end, according to Crum & Sherman (2008), the heightened emphasis on standardized testing and other practices related to No Child Left Behind has created a condition wherein the principal is found to be largely at the center of an array of very inflexible demands. The result is that the principal’s performance evaluation is directly connected to the capacity of the school and its students to comport with the standards created by such legislation. Therefore, principals are increasingly finding it necessary to take a hands-on approach to providing leadership in public schools. As Crum & Sherman indicate, “the burden for school improvement in a time of accountability falls squarely on the shoulders of principals as new requirements demand that they act as instructional leaders.” (Crum & Sherman, 562) This study is of particular value to our discussion for its association to the inherent case for a more widely distributed approach to internal leadership This means developing, maintaining and feeding a set of healthy relationships betwixt the principal and teachers and faculty. The principal must cultivate an atmosphere where trust and a sense of value allow teachers to effectively carry out the message, mission and pressures of the principalship. Though accountability will typically be closely associated with the job of the principalship, the support which the principal enjoys from the teaching staff will be tantamount to their willingness to support him or her. In turn, this
  6. 6. support will translate into an effective staff which maintains the principal’s vision and standards of efficacy. Ultimately, the discussion here contributes to the resolution that the primary issues facing those aspiring to become or currently serving as school principals concern an increasing emphasis on a diversity learning strategies and needs, a recognition of the preeminence of instructional success in shaping the principal’s role and on the need for greater nuance in the leadership role of a principal imposed upon by federalized evaluation standards for this important leadership role. The focus of the discussion inevitably turns toward the approach of leadership taken by the principal. In light of the modern challenges which have come to define the role, it seems apparent that the theoretical constructs of organizational leadership do help to diminish the undue pressure upon the principal. Delegation of authority to effective and qualified personnel is one of the more important hallmarks of an effective leader as is the ability to trust the independent channeling of this delegation amongst faculty and staff. Today, we find that the work of the principal is as complex and imposed upon as it has perhaps ever been. But this also coincides with a dire state of morale that impacts both teachers and students, who are experiencing a shared discontent over the loss of nuance, flexibility and freedom in education. The principal, though certainly imposed upon, is in a position of unique power to attempt to broker compromise between policy and application which speaks to the top prioritization of the students’ educational experience. Works Cited: Crum, K.S & Sherman, W.H. (2008). Facilitating high achievement: High school principals' reflections on their successful leadership practices. Journal of Educational Administration, 46(5), 562-580.
  7. 7. Florida Department of Education (FLDOE). (2008). Florida Principal Leadership Standards. Florida Department of Education. Online at http://www.fldoe.org/profdev/fpls.asp Graseck, P. (2005). Where's the ministry in administration? Attending to the souls of our schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(5), 373-382. Lashway, L. (2003). Distributed Leadership. Research Roundup, 19(4). Spillane, J. P. (2003). Educational Leadership. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 25(4) 343-346. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). (2008). Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008. National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Online at http://www.ccsso.org/publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=365

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