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Les Potter is currently the director of the American International School West in Cairo, Egypt. Les has over 40 years in educational leadership in the US and Egypt and most recently has been a...
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Visibility of the Principal: Improving School Climate

The principal as the school leader should be visible: before, during and after school. Attend after school sporting events, concerts, plays, etc. It is easy to see an assistant principal, but everyone wants to see you. As the school leader-- students, staff and parents feel better when the principal is seen in the schools and at different functions. Principals are the key to school climate (J. Hanna). As safety becomes even more of an issue in schools, visibility of the principal becomes even more necessary. It is easy to get tethered to the computer and phone in the office, it is still essential for the principal to be present and visible to all school community members.

I get to work early, and I sit in the lobby of our school on a couch and greet staff when they arrive each morning. Then we have an outdoor flag salute and I see and meet students and parents then. I try to walk our halls (4 floors) when school starts as often as I can. I try and do the same at least once more. This is not doing pop in observations but just being visible. I also go into the cafeteria (we are a pre-K to 12th grade school) and say hello to the students and staff. I try and greet parents at the end of the day to pick up their students.

A study by Hsiehe and Shen a few years ago reviewed the traits of school leaders---characteristics and duties as seen by superintendents, teachers and principals. Their research shows that visibility is a key element. Two factors affect a principal’s success in establishing his or her presence at a school.

  1. Flexibility: A principal must be flexible to accommodate the changing needs and expectations of the community. After the recent tragedies in schools the students, parents and staff now more than ever need to see the principal in the halls, classrooms, cafeteria, bus loop, after school activities, etc. Don’t be a stuck in your office principal. Arrange times on your daily calendar to get around the school during the day---visit classes, meet with student groups, go to the gym, watch PE classes, just doing walkabouts. Staff and students are quietly reassured when they see the principal and hear his/her voice over the intercom during the day. This unfortunately puts more pressure on the principal on when to juggle his/her time with emails and phone calls. But I have seen successful principals with hand held electronic devices answers emails as they walk down the halls, sit in the cafeteria, watch a ball game after school, while they are sitting on the couch in the lobby, etc.
  2. Personality, attitude and behavior: According to Hsiehe and Shen, the principal’s personality, attitude and behavior plays an important role in her or his leadership style. The ability to adapt to meet the expectations of the students being served is very important. After school activities are very time consuming for principals. But it is a great way to meet parents as well a bond with students and school sponsors-coaches. There is more to American schools then the 3 R’s. If you tell teachers to arrive at 7:30 for school, you should be there to greet them. Set standards that you and they can meet together. Having a good personality warm and friendly is good for all. Learn to control your temper and frustration. I learn something from professor Todd Whitaker about personality and friendliness. Act like you like someone, even if you don’t, they won’t know the difference. Be nice to everyone. As you walk around the halls say hi to everyone. Acknowledge what they contribute to the school as everyone’s job is important.

Be visible at your school to improve school climate.


Les Potter, Ed. D.

American International School West
Cairo, Egypt