You are here

Teachers Urged to Consider Principalship

The principal's job can be a difficult, high-stress one. But it's a job that most principals would never think of giving up! So what do they see in the job? This week, Education World's Principal Files principals share the joys of the job along with words of encouragement for educators who might be considering a career path that leads to the principal's office. Included: Links to more than two-dozen inspiring Principal Files articles!

Over the years, Education World's Principal Files principals have tackled many leadership topics. Often, those topics focus on the challenges and stresses of the job. A review of previous Principal Files headlines and one might think, No wonder there's a principal shortage! Who would want the job?

Evidently, the job isn't as bad as the headlines might lead us to believe. Quite a few of our Principal Files principals wouldn't want to be any other place! "Being able to be a principal is truly a gift to me," Lolli Haws told Education World. "I know I'm doing something important. ... I've learned that this job doesn't have to consume your life and emotions to be done well -- if you surround yourself with excellent people.

"I'm tired of reading and hearing about poor, overworked, stressed-out principals," added Haws, principal at Avery Elementary School in Webster Groves, Missouri. "That discourages others from our profession and isn't an accurate whole picture of what this job is about."

Haws' comments got us thinking: Why do principals seem to love their work in spite of its many challenges? By focusing our P-Files articles on the stresses and challenges of the job, are we inadvertently scaring classroom educators from considering a move up the ladder? On Lolli Haws' advice, this month Education World's Principal Files team takes a look on the positive side of principaling!
IT'S THE KIDS!

Let's face it, most principals started their careers in the classroom. They became teachers in the first place because they love kids and want to make a difference in kids' lives.

Making a difference is why Phil Shaman became a principal. He wanted to be in a position where he could ensure that nobody quit on the students in his school. "Too often when students act out or misbehave, we adults turn our backs on them. We let them flounder and eventually fail," Shaman told Education World. "I wanted to work with those kids. I wanted to make demands on them and not let them quit on themselves."

As principal, Shaman added, he is able to transform his no-quitting-on-kids rule into a school-wide effort.

"One of the greatest pleasures I have as an administrator is handing a graduation diploma to a young adult who others said would never succeed," added Shaman, principal at Neepawa Area Collegiate Institute in Manitoba (Canada). "I cannot think of anything that replaces the feeling I get when I shake those kids' hands."

Patricia Green, principal at Cedar Heights Junior High School in Port Orchard, Washington, agreed that the kids are the reason she is in it. "This job gives me many opportunities to really connect with kids," said Green.

"Regardless of their behaviors, all students have a wonderful, warm, funny, kind side," explained Green. "There is always something invigorating about working with young adults. Hanging out with the kids, discovering who they are, learning about what they like, and watching them mature as students and as individuals is truly an experience!"

Principal Larry Davis takes great pride and gets great satisfaction knowing that his school makes a difference in every child's life. "The state says that children are in school to learn about the ABCs and 123s, but in reality we do much more than that," said Davis, principal at Doctors Inlet Elementary School in Middleburg, Florida. In school, staff members can ensure that "some children will be able to eat a needed meal, receive special counseling, be placed in a special class, or just enjoy learning, growing up, or having a friend.

"Let's face it," Davis added. "I know that the students I'm helping today will be running the country when I'm collecting Social Security."

HAVE YOU A VISION FOR WHAT A SCHOOL COULD BE?

The kids aren't the only part of the job that energizes principals. Today's school leaders have landed in the main office because they have a vision for what a great school should look like.

Amos Kornfeld was a teacher before he became principal at Piermont (New Hampshire) Village School. And he has some advice for other teachers who might follow the same path: "If you are a teacher who has strong beliefs about how to make a school better, what better way to do that than by taking the helm? I visit classrooms regularly, provide feedback for teachers, introduce initiatives, stimulate teachers, hire good people and help lose poor teachers, create a culture of high expectations and caring, facilitate shared decision-making.

"I get to meet lots of interesting people too, and each day brings new challenges," added Kornfeld.

Tony Pallija has been a principal for 11 years. Being a principal is a great opportunity for an educator to lead and to share a solid vision for a school, said Pallija, who advised, "Don't do it for the extra money, do it because you have a plan to make your school a better place for everybody.

"I try each day to do something that will improve the life or day of my students or staff members," added Pallija, who is principal at Max Hayes Vocational High School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Principal Betty Peltier offered words of encouragement to any educator interested in following a career path into school administration. "I would encourage anyone who is interested to complete the certification requirements," she said. "As a principal, your ideas and educational experiences can set the tone for a great school. Curriculum ideas that you know will work can be implemented. You can put sound educational practices in place school-wide."

It is very satisfying to see your ideas working, said Peltier, who is principal at Southdown Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana.

Lyn McCarty is a former principal. Today, as coordinator of special education services in Sacramento, California, McCarty has the opportunity to work with many principals. "When I am working with a visionary principal who takes the responsibility of daily leadership seriously, I almost never hear any bellyaching [by staff]," noted McCarty. "The opportunity for influential leadership is at the heart of site level administration. It is in the everyday responses of visionary principals that an evolution of thinking and practices begins."

Creating a vision for her school is what excites Laura Browning Crochet too. She is principal at Genesis Alternative High School in Houma, Louisiana. "I get a thrill out of seeing the big picture, the overall growth of students and teachers," said Crochet. "I think I always wanted to be a school administrator, and I still do -- even on my worst days and theirs too."

LOOKING TO LEAD?

"I became a principal knowing full well how hard it would be," Amos Kornfeld told Education World. "As a teacher I saw the importance of good leadership in a school. Now, as a principal, I can play a major role in shaping the educational experiences of a number of people -- not just students, but teachers, non-teaching staff, parents, and the larger community."

"Most principals were teachers first," Nancy Ondrasik told Education World. "We went into the teaching field because ... we must have something built into each of us that likes to see others succeed.

"Being a principal is like being a teacher," Ondrasik suggested. "We nourish, enrich, guide, and support our teachers. We help good teachers become better, better teachers become great, great teachers become outstanding. Just as our students grew and we were elated when they finally understood that math concept we had been teaching, so teachers can grow under a principal's supervision. With guidance their lesson plans become more organized, their lessons more dynamic, and students more energized.

"It's exciting to plan an in-service day and watch even veteran teachers get rejuvenated and carry new skills over into their classrooms," continued Ondrasik, who is assistant principal at Beaty Warren Middle School in Warren, Pennsylvania.

"Sure, there are days when you wonder why you ever got into this job," added Ondrasik, "but when you look at the positive changes you are making with the faculty, changes that affect many students each day, you pat yourself on the back and realize that principals can make a difference in the education of a thousand children each year."

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Being a principal requires many skills. Teri Stokes, principal at Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama, reflected on a few of those skills: "It takes organization, flexibility, and endurance. It takes knowledge, people skills, and clairvoyance. It takes hindsight, tenacity, and letting go. Being a principal requires lots of decision-making skills too, but most of all, it takes a strong desire to make a difference in education.

"You must want to be an educator first and a principal second," Stokes advised. "And you must understand that some days you will have lots of friends and some days being a principal can be very lonely."

Being a principal is a great job "but not one for the faint, frail, or timid," said Pat Green. "There is a special magic about being CEO of your own unique kingdom. Knowing that your efforts can and do make a difference for a host of others -- from the cook to the custodian, the office support staff to the bus drivers, teachers, students, and community -- is awesome. Being able to nurture young professionals and help them grow as teachers, coaches, and mentors is exhilarating. Spending time -- lots of time -- with kids of all ages is invigorating."

A school often takes on the personality of a principal, added Betty Peltier. "A principal's ideas can set the tone for a great school."

MORE PRINCIPAL THOUGHTS

Being a principal is a great job for somebody who enjoys solving problems, said Les Potter, principal at Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida. "I enjoy being a problem solver. It doesn't matter whether the problems are human, pedagogical, financial.

"I find the principalship to be a great learning experience, greater than just about anything else I have done," added Potter, who has been an educator for 32 years. "I would always recommend my job to a fellow educator, but I would also be realistic with him or her. The job is not for everyone.

"The time commitment is incredible," added Potter, "but since I like what I do, I don't mind the many hours I put in. The extracurricular activities -- sports, clubs, plays, band, and chorus -- are fun. They are very time-consuming, but if you like people, they can be very energizing."

"Very few other careers give you a chance to meet and learn more about the community in which you work and live," said Pat Green, who admitted it is almost impossible for her to run into the grocery store for a quart of milk without meeting a parent who wants to talk about his or her child. "But there's something energizing about being part of a community, knowing the parents and the children, and realizing that your connections count.

"You spend many years building your repertoire as a teacher, coach, mentor, and leader," said Green. "The principalship is a great place to wrap all of those talents together.

"Not many other jobs require you to be a kid," she added.

For principals, even more than for teachers, every day is different. Bonita Henderson compares being a principal to Forrest Gump's chocolates. "'You never know what you gonna' get,'" she said. "If you like change, the unknown, and problem solving, then this is the job for you! The rewards are numerous and exhilarating."

The job is never boring, admitted Henderson, assistant principal at Roselawn Condon School in Cincinnati, Ohio. And it has some very special rewards, she added. "I am a hugger. I love to get my hugs and smiles every day."

"This job is difficult but so rewarding," Betty Peltier advised those who might be considering an administrative path. "Join the ranks -- you won't regret it!"

THE GREEDY CHOICE

"Why would anyone want to be a principal?" wondered principal Jim Jordan. "I guess my answer would be greed.

"I'm greedy," Jordan, principal at Buford High School in Lancaster, South Carolina, explained. "I'm greedy for the feelings I get when I see a student nobody believed in succeed. I'm greedy for the feelings I get when I see kids receive their high school diplomas and realize they have accomplished a significant goal. I'm greedy for the feelings I get when I see a family celebrate the high school graduation of the first person in their family to accomplish that goal. I'm greedy for the feelings I get when I see a teacher develop into a master teacher. I'm greedy for the feelings I get when I see a school community pull together to create a positive, supporting, learning community.

"Anyone who is greedy and loves those types of feelings ought to think about becoming a principal," added Jordan. "You cannot get to the top without climbing the rough ground on the way, but every time you reach a peak and can see the horizon, you thank God for the journey. The journey makes it all worthwhile."

Jordan has experienced a lot of peaks in 19 years as a principal. "That's why I still do it. I'm greedy for more of those feelings," he said. "All it takes is for one former student to walk in the door every now and then and say 'I'm better off because I came this way.' Comments like that fire me up and keep me going.

"The principalship is the most difficult job I have ever enjoyed doing," he concluded.

MORE FROM THE PRINCIPAL FILES SERIES

Principal Files principals have contributed to more than two dozen Education World articles. If you are a principal, or an educator who is considering that path, click on any headline below for some inspiration from Education World's Principal Files professionals!

Comments