How Many Good Principals
are there in NYC?
If I had a
thousand dollars for every time someone asked me how many good
principals I think there are in New York City, I would be,
if not a rich woman, at least a lot closer to paying off my
graduate school loans. Yet, while I can see that question coming
at me before it leaves home base, I never want to catch it.
Because from where I sit, evaluating effective leadership should
not be reduced to a third grade mathematical equation that
begins or ends in the number 1200.
urge our teachers to avoid doling out generic feedback to
their students. “Great
job” and “good work” will not help little
Johnny to understand what he is doing well or what he can do
better. Yet, when it comes to evaluating some of the City’s
most important V.I.P.s, why do we persist in dumbing down the
debate to a four-letter word?
do not intend to minimize the value inherent in understanding
where we stand with respect to our city’s school leaders.
Knowing what is and is not working are steps A and B of any
good reform plan. But perhaps we need to work a little harder
at redirecting the conversation towards points C, D and E.
Namely, which principals are effective at what activities?
What support do principals need to develop in other areas?
And how will we, as a system and a society, provide this
support to best meet their needs?
At the Cahn
Fellows Program for Distinguished New York City Principals
at Teachers College, Columbia University, we are conducting
a study on effective leadership in the principalship entitled Effective
Leadership: Distinguished New York City Principals in Action.
While still a work in progress, the current taxonomy of effective
principal practices we have identified number well into the
exhibited by the principals in the study range from “interacting
with students regularly by teaching a class” to “playing
the guitar during a meeting with students to break down barriers
between students and the administration” to “handling
a crisis situation immediately and decisively”. So when
someone asks how many good principals are there in New York
City, are they asking how many principals are good teachers,
musicians and emergency management personnel? Or are they asking
how many principals have the current or potential ability to
move their students forward using a range of different leadership
and management techniques? Perhaps we need to disaggregate
the question we are asking before we scramble to assign simple
conclusions to a topic as multifaceted and important as the
leadership of our city’s schools.#
Busch is Director of The Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished
New York City Principals at Teachers College, Columbia University.