my Masters in education at the University of Bordeaux in France,
I visited several high schools in New York City. I observed that
the principal’s leadership greatly influenced the behavior of
A principal at a public high school in a low-income neighborhood
in Queens, who is committed to fighting the gangs inside the school,
spends every morning outside on the sidewalk, paying attention
to the students coming to school. Inside, during class time, students
who are not in class are required to carry a piece of wood on
which is written the reason they are absent. On this piece of
wood is the time, the name of the teacher who allowed the student
to leave the room and the room number. When I was at this school
I never felt unsafe.
In another public high school in Manhattan, discipline was not
important for the principal, and I felt like I had to be careful
for my own safety. There were no gangs in this school (not yet)
but the students’ behavior was not channeled at all. In the halls
and stairs they pushed, bumped against me. This never happened
in the school in Queens.
It is important for teachers who are trying to teach to feel supported
by their principals. If the principal disagrees with a teacher
when he or she is attempting to command respect, students know
and can take advantage of the confused situation. A lack of unified
authority seems to me to be an open door to students’ deviant
behavior. The coherence between the leadership—principal and assistant
principal—and the teacher team is essential, not only in structuring
the student’s life in high school, but also in presenting themselves
as credible role models that students can respect and look up
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