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Les Potter is currently the Assistant to the Superintendent (Educational Services Overseas Limited) in Egypt. He received his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Les has over 45 years...
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Changing the Role of the Principal

Some excerpts were used from "Enhancing A High-Performing School Culture and Climate." Bulach, Lunenburg and Potter

The type of principal needed in a high-performing school calls for a new approach to directing K-12 schools. The principal, faculty, staff, school board, parents and the community work together to create a shared vision of how to help all students achieve their highest potential. Each school is considered a professional learning community (PLC). This is a term that has been in place for a number of years in some sort of configuration. The principalship is less hierarchical and more sharing with different committed educational members. Important decisions are made as much by the site-level stakeholders as by district or state level participles. Of course, this has to have a buy-in from state, district and school educators.

This emerging view of the principalship accounts for the centrality of organic and adaptive models of organization and the importance of site-based management. That is, decisions about school programs are decentralized to the school level and leadership is no longer limited to formal organizational positions. Leadership and management are based on ability rather than role. Leadership activities are dispensed according to competence for required tasks rather than authority. The principal is no longer the expert in all things educational.

Who would know more about pedagogy than an experienced and competent teacher? Often many principals have been out of the classroom for years as they climb the administrative ladder and may have lost touch with what is happening in the day to day operation of the classroom. In a large high school how would you expect the principal to be the leading authority in teaching and learning as much of his/her time is spent not in the classroom?

This altered view of the principalship explains the need for the empowerment of teachers, parents and students; the importance of site based decision making and the development of professional learning communities. In a sense, all stakeholders are servants of each other in the true sense of servant leadership. That being said, the reality of the situation is that directives from central office and state departments of education still play a major role in how the principal operates the school.

Stakeholder empowerment, site-based decision making and professional learning communities, then, are at the very core of a redefinition of the role of the principal in a high performing school. In high performing schools, principals clearly define themselves as a servant leader at the center of the school's staff rather than at the top. Instead of occupying authoritative positions, they prefer to give leadership to others and guide by example and by indirectly inducing thoughtfulness, rather than my making direct suggestions. In short, they give up power to remain in power.

In each instance, their role as an authority figure is downplayed and their role as a source of support and assistance is emphasized, that is, they are servants to the other stakeholders who all share the same vision. These emergent principals believe in delegation, in developing collaborative decision making processes and in stepping back from being the chief problem solver and the educational expert in a  school by linking these more explicitly to the development of a professional learning community.

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Dr. Les Potter
former Director and current Assistant to the Superintendent
American International School West, Cairo Egypt
[email protected]