This article explores the challenges facing today's school leaders and various ways in which schools are trying to address the increased responsibilities of the principal. Primarily, the article focuses on the changing scope of the role of the school principal especially with regard to instructional leadership and leadership for learning. Furthermore, distributing leadership among capable teachers is discussed as a strategy to not only help alleviate the pressures on school leaders, but also to create sustainable leadership opportunities and to broaden the scope of responsibility and decision making within a school. Lastly, the co-principal model is addressed as yet another strategy to spread leadership responsibilities and to work toward ideal conditions for school improvement.
Keywords Co-Principal Model; Distributed Leadership; Edison Whole-School Reform Model; Instructional Leadership; Learning Leader; School Principal
Expectations of School Leaders
Eckman (2006) indicates that the work of the school principal has transformed since the late twentieth century to include increasingly more complex demands. In particular, principals are required to:
• Be instructional leaders,
• Close the achievement gap,
• Respond to accountability measures in laws such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and initiatives such as Common Core State Standards,
• Meet the needs of students with disabilities,
• Report to state and federal agencies,
• Provide support to parents in need,
• Respond to increased demands for home-school communication,
• Maintain safe school environments,
• Ensure all students achieve on standardized tests,
• Act as change agents, and
• Provide visionary leadership in schools desperately in need of new directions (Eckman, 2006).
Among the myriad of expectations of today's school leaders, the new generation of principals needs to create the conditions necessary for professional learning communities to flourish. They need to act as lead learners and set the tone within the organization that all community members continue to learn best practices and continue to work to meet the needs of all students. They must develop the skills necessary to collect and use data from a variety of sources to respond to accountability measures set forth in performance standards and help inform decisions related to school improvement (King, 2002). They must fully understand the scope and sequence of NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core, and other federal and state education reforms, and must prove their ability to meet the standards and expectations set forth by the law. They must have the communication and interpersonal skills necessary to interact with all constituents of a school community including parents, students, teachers, central administrators, and community members. Furthermore, they must be able to create safe school environments and respond to issues particularly related to rising security concerns in the wake of various incidents of school violence.
King (2002) asserts that today's school leaders are expected to realize many of these goals with relative ease, quickly and without becoming overwhelmed. King (2002) further illuminates that schools continue to serve increasingly diverse student populations and principals are expected to respond to constantly changing environments with fewer resources, less people, and in many cases less funds available to address these needs. Often, principals are unable to meet these demands as well as personal obligations, thus contributing to low job satisfaction and a relatively low average for the number of years that one principal leads a given school (Eckman, 2006).
Traditionally, school administration is hierarchical in nature. One individual serves in the role of school leader while the rest of the faculty and staff consist of teachers, administrative support, etc. The problem inherent in this model is that all of the leadership responsibility is placed on one individual. Few schools have branched out to embrace new models of school leadership. With increasing demands, less resources, and fewer people willing to take on the significant challenges faced by school leaders, many researchers and educators ask the question—is one individual truly able to successfully lead a school? Or do schools need to find ways to distribute leadership or develop innovative strategies to respond to the increasing demands, such as developing a co-principal model? Rutherford (2006) suggests that as schools become too complex for one individual to lead, it is time for new organizational and leadership structures to meet these complex demands.
Leadership for Different Contexts
King (2002) discusses the fact that leadership depends greatly on the actual needs of the school community. Every school faces different demands and different expectations, from teachers to parents and from state to federal governments. No two schools serve the same student population or have the same demographics when comparing socioeconomic status, race, academic needs, family needs, etc. Every school is unique; therefore, every school leader faces a unique set of challenges and must be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide the type of leadership required to lead a school toward overall improvement.
For example, a school may have large numbers of students with particularly low achievement scores when compared to standards (King, 2002). In such a school, the leader(s) may focus on collecting and analyzing data regarding student achievement to develop possible solutions to help increase overall student performance. In another school, academic achievement may not be the main focus, but rather improved instructional practice may be necessary to help teachers grow professionally. In this case, leadership may focus on increased opportunities for professional growth through workshops, seminars, study groups, additional faculty positions such as reading and/or math coaches, etc. (King, 2002). In yet another school, significant teacher turnover may pose a problem as the organization is unable to grow due to consistent loss of faculty members. Leadership in this context may focus on ways to retain teachers or to increase job satisfaction in order to sustain growth and reward individuals for excelling in the field.
While every school almost always faces the same general challenges at one time or another, each school responds to these challenges in a different way depending on the school community served. The priorities that different school leaders set are largely a function of the school community and climate in which they operate. Regardless of environmental context, however, all schools aim to provide the best possible education for all students so that they are able to achieve optimal learning outcomes.
King (2002) indicates that the focus of school leaders has shifted since the late twentieth century to include an increased emphasis on instructional leadership. She also highlights the fact that the role of the school principal has further transformed to encompass professional development, data-driven decision making, and accountability. When principals act as instructional leaders, they focus primarily on everything related to teaching and learning. In essence, an instructional leader is the lead learner of a school in that he or she models a passion for professional development and enhancement of instructional strategies and methodologies. An instructional leader creates an organizational structure that largely supports the type of inquiry and growth necessary for instructional improvement. He or she sets the tone for lifelong learning and creates the conditions necessary for teachers to enhance their craft.
Effective instructional leaders are visible throughout the school day. The office door is always open and their presence is felt throughout the school. Effective instructional leaders are people-oriented and have the strong interaction skills necessary to work with a variety of individuals. They do not allow themselves to become isolated or secluded (Niece, 1993, as cited in Whitaker, 1997). Whitaker (1997) asserts that principals never have a strong sense of a school and its culture unless they immerse themselves in the educational environment by visiting classrooms, working with students, eating lunch with students and faculty, etc. When actively participating in school culture, leaders need to ensure there is a meaning and purpose behind their involvement and that others understand the principal's role as an instructional leader....
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