What’s Worth Fighting For in the Principalship
What’s Worth Fighting For in the Principalship (Second Edition)
By Michael Fullan
Teachers College Press And Ontario Principals’ Council: New York And Toronto, 2008: 68 pp.
No one ever said being a school principal was an easy job. In recent years, it has become even harder, as the pressures of increased transparency, accountability and high stakes make the school leader’s responsibilities almost impossible to fulfill.
Whether parents or politicians, nearly everyone considers himself an “expert” in school reforms and best practices. Principals are expected to implement a dizzying array of initiatives, while simultaneously training new teachers, maintaining the performance and enthusiasm of veteran teachers, placating parents and community leaders and, oh yes, seeing that the students under their care perform well on all sorts of measures.
Small wonder that turnover at the top is high—and that districts are often frantically scrambling to fill positions when experienced principals retire, and the pipeline is disappointingly empty.
“In terms of job expectations, the role of the principal has changed dramatically in the past 3 to 5 years,” writes Michael Fullan, a professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and a special adviser on education to the premier of Ontario. “The job of the school head is incredibly more complex and substantially different from what it was even a short time ago.”
This mismatch between what principals who entered the field expected to do in their careers, and what they have to do, is a serious problem. While Fullan fully recognizes the problems and pressures on principals, he is also blunt in his assessment that principals need to adapt to the changed educational landscape.
As he writes, “Principals should not think that their role is to implement somebody else’s agenda…but they should be aware of the bigger picture.”
Fullan also recommends that principals work to develop collaborative cultures within their schools; establish opportunities to learn best practices and successful strategies from other schools (rather than function in an isolated vacuum); maintain a building-wide culture of improvement where staff are actively encouraged to improve their skills, and support relationships within a school district, among others.
Although the book is brief, its focus is clear and its prescriptions sensible. Principals should consider it part of their own summer reading assignment—and be prepared to implement some of the author’s recommendations when they return to school in September.#