Principals as Leader-Managers
Principals often view leadership and management as two different roles, but the most effective principals know how to blend the two. Included: Tips for combining leadership and management skills to be a more effective administrator.
Successful principals learn to seamlessly blend their roles as managers and leaders and understand the importance of both tasks, according to educators, authors, and consultants Dr. Harvey Alvy and Dr. Pam Robbins. The pair, co-authors of The New Principal's Fieldbook: Strategies for Success led a session at the recent convention of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).
"Principals are responsible for both leadership and management," said Dr. Alvy, a former principal and professor in the department of education at Eastern Washington University. "A lot of principals separate the two roles and do not realize how the roles go hand-in-hand."
Many leaders view management responsibilities at a lower level or lower "rank" because they have little to do with vision, mission, culture building, and instructional supervision, according to Dr. Alvy. But management goes hand-in hand with leadership; many of the culture-building and culture-shaping aspects of the job are accomplished through combining leadership and management.
For example, when a principal is "monitoring" student dismissal at 3 p.m., that responsibility should be viewed as both management and leadership, Dr. Alvy said, because the principal is making sure students are safe as they are leaving school and taking the opportunity to talk with students, teachers, and bus drivers about the day and important educational issues -- such as, "Monica, I heard you did great on your math test yesterday; well done!"
In assessing their skills as managers and leaders, administrators should not separate the two roles, Dr. Alvy added.
"It is hard to determine [a principal's success in those roles] unless a principal has a clear vision and mission of his or her job -- one that is focused on instructional leadership," he noted. "We cannot determine if we are successful unless we have a target or standard to judge our performance. The leadership vision needs to be about helping students succeed academically and as citizens, and helping faculty and staff develop as professionals with a common vision and mission about school and student success. Based on the vision and mission the leader needs to set goals, and assess whether the goals have been addressed during the year."
According to Dr. Alvy and Dr. Robbins, successful school leaders combine management and leadership strategies effectively by
"Also consider the emotional needs of the child," Dr. Robbins said. "You need to build heart into the school plan. Remember heart in the equation of learning."
According to Robbins, one principal noticed a few months before graduation that certain kids were at risk of not graduating. So the principal ordered graduation robes early and took pictures of the kids in the robes, put them in frames, and gave them to the kids. "That inspired many of them to complete school."
A simple way to maximize learning time is by observing how effectively teachers use the first five minutes of class time, Dr. Alvy said. "Look at how the first five minutes of class goes. If you lose five minutes a day, that's 15 hours of instructional time a year." He also recommends principals pick up examples of student work as they walk around the building.
"One of the most valuable management tools is data," Dr. Alvy added. "Make sure you make decisions based on research. Consider what do on a daily basis to improve student achievement. Remember to put data in context."
To successfully use data, combine leadership and management roles, Dr. Alvy continued. "While managers are concerned with generating and collecting data sources, leaders go beyond merely connecting, and scrutinize the most valuable data sources given contextual realities and perceptions," he said. "Leaders then make decisions and act in the best interests of students, faculty, and the school."
One new principal, for example, in reviewing student referrals, noticed that kids only were referred to the office for negative reasons, said Dr. Robbins, an educational consultant who lives in Virginia. The principal told the teachers that he wanted to change the policy so kids were referred for good things as well. He papered the wall in his office with notes from kids who wrote about the good things they did and signed their names.
"It changed the climate of the school," Dr. Robbins noted.
Principals also should take the time to walk through the school, a strategy Dr. Alvy and Dr. Robbins call Leading and Learning by Wandering Around.
"One principal had a sign that said 'Out Learning' that he would put on his door when visiting classrooms," Dr. Alvy noted. "He had note cards with every teacher's name on them and would mark the date he visited a classroom and what the teacher was doing."
Another principal had blue cards, Dr. Alvy added. As walked around the building, he jotted down maintenance problems and gave them to his secretary, who called the custodian. The secretary passed on the cards to the custodian. When the work was done, the custodian returned the card to the principal, signed and dated.
"Ask yourself, 'What parts of the school should I be visiting but I'm not?'" Dr. Alvy said. "Where you go in the building says a lot about you."
To help manage time, Drs. Alvy and Robbins recommended Covey's time management matrix. This suggests dividing tasks into categories urgent and important, urgent and not important, not urgent and important, not urgent and not important
"You need to organize and execute around priorities," Dr. Alvy added.
He also suggested administrators establish a Tickler File with information they will need for the month, and for more long-term planning. "You also can put notes on file for next year, such as 'shorten the graduation speech' or 'don't invite someone back because of crude language'."
Faculty meetings also should be treated as prime opportunities for staff development. "They should not be times to review items that can be delivered via e-mail," Dr. Alvy said. "They should be planned with the idea that every teacher can gain valuable information from the meeting."
Use faculty meetings to leverage learning time, he said. To do that, use meetings for instructional curricular and assessment issues that foster student learning, such as analyzing data to make decisions about needed interventions for students. Also, foster opportunities to analyze student work and showcase students. Start the meeting with a student who received an award or who plays an instrument; something inspirational.
One possibility is for teachers and administrators to read an article together and discuss it.
Principals also should provide opportunities to build trust, collaboration, and individual and organizational capacity, as well as employ celebrations to call attention to treasured school values.
Many principals would say that reflecting on their job and what they do is a luxury they can't afford, but Drs. Alvy and Robbins insist it is critical to being good leader-managers, because reflection deepens learning perspectives.
As an example of the value of reflection, Dr. Robbins noted that one principal realized that kids referred for fighting were being teased about body odor. The principal did some research and learned that the students reported for fighting were receiving free or reduced-price lunches, and thought the families might not be able to afford certain hygiene products. The principal asked people who traveled to collect the soap and shampoo hotels leave in the rooms and donate them to the school. The principal made it known to the students that the supplies were available. "No one has abused the supplies, and the fights dropped to zero," Dr. Robbins said.
For principals who say they cannot find time to reflect, Dr. Alvy said he would sympathize with their frustration and time management constraints. "I then would ask them to talk about their typical day," he told Education World. "We would engage in a conversation about their vision, mission, and goals for the year. If instructional leadership and supervision for student growth and teacher success are not part of the mission and vision, I would suggest strongly refocusing their priorities."
At the same time, Dr. Alvy noted, principals need to remember that there are days in which the best plans go awry -- that is just part of the job. "The daily surprises are a reality, thus it is essential to focus on the mission and vision," he said. "The mission and vision serve as a compass to guide one over and around the hurdles that occur each day."