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What Do Principals Do?

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Students at Orangewood Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, share their unique perspectives on what their principal -- Dr. Peggy George -- does!

What do principals do?

A principal's job responsibilities are endless... They involve monitoring and mentoring, planning and policing, evaluating and envisioning. A principal is a PR person and policymaker, the hirer and firer, a cheerleader and a change agent.

Kids Picture Cover ImageBut what do the students in your school think you do?

Education World thought it would be fun to find out, so we solicited the help of one of our Principal Files principals. We invited Dr. Peggy J. George, principal of Orangewood Elementary School (Phoenix, Arizona), to ask her students What does a principal do? Dr. George invited the teachers in her school to pose that question to their pupils. The students in a dozen classes drew pictures and wrote sentences to describe their principal's most important duties. Dr. George followed up by making the rounds, talking to those classes about their drawings.

The assignment was illuminating!

"It is very obvious that, regardless of the age of the children, they 'know' what they have experienced or heard," says George. "They know some of the things I do by what they see me do, and most of the students reflected on the most recent things they had seen me do."

Every morning Dr. George does the ritual morning announcements, Pledge of Allegiance, and a quick round of exercises. Sometimes she awards a Cougar Pride certificate to recognize a student "who has made our school a better place." Dr. George always ends the daily announcements with a "Thought for the Day." Many students' ideas of what the principal does stem from that most "visible" routine.

"To kindergartners I am the voice on the speaker box," says George.

Proof of that came from Emma, a kindergartner. Those morning announcements were featured in Emma's drawing. But Emma saw Dr. George as more than just the announcement-maker. Wrote Emma, "The most important thing a principal does is talk on the speaker [and] pick up trash on the playground."

Ah, yes, principals are groundskeepers too!

"I had such a great time reading the student responses and going to classrooms to talk to kids about what they thought the principal did on the job," says George. She recommends the activity as a way for principals to get to know their students -- and for the students to get to know their principal. Dr. George used some of the pictures to make a fun bulletin board for Open House too.

Any principal could do the same. Create a bulletin board outside your office. Rotate the pictures on a monthly basis so the bulletin board always appears "new." And then create a scrapbook of the pictures to keep in your office for kids and visitors to see again and again. That's what Dr. George plans to do!

"I was really pleased with the students' observations," adds George. "They reflected lots of 'people' activities, recognition of lots of paperwork and meetings taking care of the school, answering questions, talking to both 'good and bad' kids, and participating with them in many school activities. They portray me as happy and nice -- even p-r-i-t-y! Who could ask for more?"

Megan's drawing shows a happy -- and pretty! -- Dr. George, and she writes "I think the most important thing she dose is wach out for us! You'r very caring Dr. George!" A little smiley face punctuates Megan's words!

A couple of the students showed Dr. George as a diligent slave to paperwork!

Chris's drawing shows a desk piled high with papers! He writes, "The principal helps you when you get lost. And she dose lots of paper wrock."

Trevor's drawing is similar in content. Writes Trevor, "Dr. George is sitting down signing papers. She has to put the green folders into the purple folders. It takes her a very long time."

Among the other drawings:

  • Some kids see green when they think of the principal's responsibilities! Amber's drawing shows a grateful Mr. Dundin as Dr. George hands him his paycheck. Writes Amber, "The Principal always pays the teachers for teaching students to lern things they don't know."
  • Some see Dr. George as the keeper and enforcer of rules. Nicole's drawing bears this out. She states, "I think the principal make the rules up and if we don't lisin to them she going to send you to the detechen."
  • Others reflect the growing technical know-how that today's principal must possess. Tyler's drawing shows how Dr. George "loves to play on the coputrs."

Dr. George has some other favorites among the drawings. Students in grades K-1, when asked What does the principal do?, responded that Dr George:

  • says hi to families.
  • takes kids for ice cream.
  • likes to go to meetings.
  • loves books.
  • helps kids with bloody noses.
  • helps people know where to go and not to go.
  • looks at the rainbow.

Among her favorite responses from grade 2-4 students are the ones that say she:

  • tries to make the school better.
  • visits classrooms.
  • cancels meetings.
  • keeps bad people off the playground.
  • pays the bill so we can stay in school until the 6th grade.
  • makes sure we come to school.
  • goes on the stage a lot.
  • plays with the kids.
  • goes around the school and looks inside their classes and sees how they're doing.
  • hires and fires people.
  • takes care of our building so it could be a better place for us and the teachers.

So, it seems, kids might not see all that a principal does, but they see what matters most! They see the dedication a principal gives to the school and the support she gives to students and teachers. They see a principal as a model of good citizenship and of computer- and book-literacy. They see a lot of the behind-the-scenes "stuff" too, more than you might imagine.

And they see the rainbow!

Thanks to Dr. Peggy George for letting Education World "tag along" as she roamed from class to class at Orangewood Elementary School!


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Originally published 11/23/1998
Last updated 10/27/2009

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