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Every year in the United States, an estimated 500,000 teachers leave their schools, with only 16% of the departures the result of retirement. The bulk of teachers leave for a variety of other reasons, including whether or not they perceive their school’s leadership to be effective.
Without strong leadership, it is much easier for good teachers to walk away, either to another school or another career. Let’s take a look at some of the leadership qualities that teachers most desire in a principal.
Builds a sense of community
Perhaps the single most important quality a principal can have is the ability to create a sense of community. Effective principals understand that the adults and children in their schools need a healthy, safe and supportive environment in order to thrive. A community-building principal works to avoid teacher isolation, negativity and resistance; instead, he or she encourages an upbeat, respectful and supportive professional environment. Positive solutions and growth are the norm, not the exception.
Knows how to hire good teachers
One of the best things a principal can do for his or her school is to hire the right teachers. In addition to making sure a candidate has a strong educational background and excellent references, principals can use behavior-based interviewing techniques to get a realistic idea of how well a candidate will perform in the classroom. Behavior-based interviewing operates on the premise that past behavior best predicts future performance. Typical questions begin with, “Tell me about a time when …” or “Describe your experience with …” and can be highly effective in determining how a candidate will handle real-life situations.
Fosters growth and professional development
When teachers are presented with a clear path to advancement they are more apt to stay at their current school. By providing in-school leadership opportunities – as well as by making professional development accessible, affordable and rewarding – principals demonstrate their commitment to helping staff members grow professionally and excel in the classroom. Also, good principals build on their teachers’ strengths, encouraging them to share knowledge, experience and skills with each other, as opposed to turning a blind eye to unhealthy competition or seniority-based inequality.
Advocates for the school to stakeholders
Nearly every educational framework policy depends on strong community involvement, so much so that the National Association of Secondary School Principals identifies community engagement as a core element of its leadership development agenda. Because a lack of resources is one of the leading catalysts for teacher attrition, principals need to be powerful advocates to their school’s stakeholders in order to gain greater access to necessary resources. Increasingly, schools understand that there is a direct connection between community and parent involvement and improved academic performance.
The primary stakeholders in any school community are families, staff, business partners and the public. Each of these categories requires different styles and approaches to engagement. For example, families may have language and cultural differences or an earlier negative experience with school officials. In order to encourage continued involvement and support, principals need to make a concerted effort to understand the priorities and preferences of the various categories of stakeholders.
Good communication is one of the most crucial components of teacher satisfaction; the best principals will routinely examine their communication skills then apply a variety of styles through the school day. There are a few things principals can ask themselves in an ongoing effort to improve in this area:
Who did I communicate with today, even if it was for just a brief moment? (List every single person from kindergartener to visiting teacher.)
Are my reasons for communicating helping lead my school through positive changes and improvements?
Do I communicate in a way that contributes to meaningful problem solving?
Does my communication style help to strengthen working relationships among my staff?
What areas of communication are the most difficult for me? How can I work to improve in these areas?
Great organizations of all types require great leadership and this is especially true in education. In today’s evolving educational landscape, it is more critical than ever for principals to demonstrate to their staff, students and community that they have what it takes to guide their schools to success.