The Principal Story

The Task
As part of an educational leadership course, groups were challenged to create a rubric for evaluating educational leaders based on readings from the course. Our group identified ten areas that we felt were necessary components of an effective school leader. Categories included:

  1. Organization
  2. Communication
  3. Action-based/follow-through
  4. Relationships/rapport-building
  5. Instructional expertise
  6. Situational awareness
  7. Visibility
  8. Data-driven/evidence-based practice
  9. Climate/culture development
  10. Professionalism/ethical behavior

The Principal Story

The class then viewed the film The Principal Story and was challenged to apply our rubrics to the two principals chronicled in the film. Not surprisingly, differences in opinion amongst group members emerged when deciding if the principals were “good” leaders. While it’s very easy to say that you ‘know a good leader when you see one’, it is increasingly difficult to isolate characteristics of that individual that make him/her so exceptional. Translating theory and research into practice is anything but a straightforward process. Our rubric could have listed twenty, fifty, or one hundred characteristics. Would this have made a difference or led us closer towards consensus? Would a different format (i.e. mind map, chart, etc) have been more helpful? Do these graphics/lists further strip away the human aspects of leading that can’t be captured in a rubric or checklist?

What’s the Goal?

This leadership course began with emphasizing the need for leaders to build a shared vision among those they are leading & to design a clear mission. What’s the goal of the school leader? As a teacher, my goal as a leader is to create an environment and design learning activities that are focused on the needs and interests of my students.  The students come first and are at the center of the goal. I would venture to say that the goals of the two principals in the film were similar to mine as a teacher. BUT if the focus is to remain on the students, it then context is critical. The needs and interests of groups of students varies tremendously. So, can the we then use the same metric to identify universal characteristics of an ‘effective leader’?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about standards based grading and competency-based learning. I wonder what would happen if it were to be applied to the learning of  teachers and/or school leaders. I fear that rubrics like ours reduce a complicated and highly individualistic process of educational leadership to a checklist that attempts to be universal. Would the goal of the leader then become to receive the maximum score on the evaluation tool instead of focusing on what’s best for the students? Are there some critical aspects of leadership that can’t be captured by a rubric or checklist? I’m not sure. What do you think?

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