Three Characteristics of Excellent Principals

Poor principals. They’ve got it rough. Serving as the administrator of a complex organization with thousands of moving parts, they also have a responsibility to be compassionate towards kids as well as be the “lead learner” in a building dedicated to improving learning. They have to coach employees to improvement while at the same time disciplining those who don’t. They’re the head of public relations, human resources, research and development and quality control. Yet despite the wide range of hats the typical principal is asked to wear, all excellent school administrators share three key characteristics.

1) An unwavering commitment to improving student learning

Excellent administrators should frequently find themselves asking “How does this affect student learning?” This should be the operative question when making virtually any school related decision, be it related to budget decisions, providing professional development opportunities for staff or when addressing the concerns of faculty, students and parents. Great principals bring pictures of students or empty desks to every faculty and committee meeting to remind themselves and others that our ultimate purpose is to improve the lives of students and we should consider their learning first and foremost at every juncture. This laser-like focus on student mastery of course content provides a contagious and positive environment for people to work and learn and ensures that with every decision made the school gets a little better.

2) Consistent and sustained effort towards open communication

Great leaders always strive to be sensational communicators. They involve all stakeholders in every feasible decision including teachers and staff as well as students, parents and community members when appropriate. Great administrators remember their roots as a classroom teacher and convey information clearly and in a variety of ways and always check for understanding when sharing an idea. They are also accomplished listeners. They are able to detach themselves from any potential criticism and hear concerns and new ideas as an opportunity to improve themselves, the school and student learning. Administrators must be collaborative as they inspire others toward their ultimate vision for continuous school improvement. They are trustworthy in their communication as well and able to maintain appropriate confidentiality. Successful administrators are committed to their word, ensuring that when they say to stakeholders that something will be done, it is done.

3) Dedication towards empowering faculty and staff

Finally, excellent administrators should strive to be servant leaders. They should seek to first provide support for all faculty and staff members, doing all they can to provide those within the building the tools required to improve student learning. “How are things going?” and “What can I do to help?” should be frequent questions asked by administrators as they seek to empower those who work for them. They should value the hiring process as an opportunity to improve their students learning for years to come and seek to retain the best people. They should be the lead learners within their building and be a source of professional development for staff members, well versed in differentiated instruction and formative assessment as well as modeling other instructional strategies. This philosophy ensures that staff members are empowered to improve student learning and grow within their roles. It is only after this support is in place that excellent administrators must be willing and able to firmly, yet fairly hold teachers accountable for student learning.