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Paul Young's Young @ Heart

Principal Power


In the minds of most young schoolchildren, the principal is power.

For many children -- and even some adults -- the mystique of our power causes a great range of reactions, from anxiety to uncertainty or vulnerability. Depending on the situation, a principal's presence can enlighten, or frighten.

Just as children are taught to respect the unseen power of electricity as something with which they should not play, so many come to perceive the power associated with the school principal.

The reality is that a principal's power is in the minds of others. But how we reveal our personal beliefs and ideas is the key to gaining others' respect, shaping their perceptions, and gaining the influence necessary to lead. What we say and write is important, but true power lies in our actions. Those actions are shaped by integrity, which is the key to our success. Integrity exposes who a principal really is. A principal with integrity is honest. A principal with integrity connects with others, builds trust, and has the ability to make things happen no matter the challenges or circumstances.

Principal power is not about authority, physical strength, or intimidation. Yet, there are those who attempt to rely upon those characteristics. Principals who must sanction every decision will produce minimal results. The most effective principals know that directives are more likely to upset people than to achieve results.

Principals gain the power to lead only when their constituents grant them permission to do so. Since the potential for an us vs. them culture is already prevalent in unionized schools, conflicts only exasperate relations unless we make strong efforts to create alliances, partnerships, and shared decision-making.

Without a doubt, principals who have a vision possess a "power card." That card enables us to reveal new possibilities, big improvements over the status quo. When the power card is played with persuasive skill, we are often able to get others to follow, to change behaviors. When we present our vision with clarity and courage and confidence, our leadership is perceived to be strong and powerful.

Powerful principals have the ability to help others with their problems and picture for themselves a better life. Obstacles become goals. Order is established where structure is weak. Smiles and joy are encouraged where there is sadness. Powerful principals stand poised with confidence in the face of any conflict or crisis. They understand and empathize, but are satisfied only when their actions enable others to do for themselves.

The challenging realities of the principalship will never change. We all understand that there will be conflict, long days, stress, and too little time. But the truly "powerful" principals among us will face those challenges and stand strong with the resolve to envision of a better school community full of opportunities and hope. By doing that, we gain power and influence beyond what we ever dreamed. We stand as strong, brave leaders. We acquire the level of respect reserved for the most powerful of principals.


Paul Young, Ph. D., is the executive director of the West After School Center in Lancaster, Ohio. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National AfterSchool Association (NAA). He served as president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in 2002-2003 and retired from Lancaster City Schools in 2004. He is an author with Corwin Press,, and School-Age Notes. He and his wife, Gertrude, a music teacher, live in Lancaster.


Article by Paul Young
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