Principals are the key players in developing the climate, culture, and processes in their schools. They are critical to implementing meaningful and lasting school change and in the ongoing school-improvement process. There is also no doubt that the role—or roles—of a principal has changed dramatically in recent years and will likely change even more in upcoming decades.
In a 2013 episode of the Whole Child Podcast, ASCD's Sean Slade and Donna Snyder are joined by Kevin Enerson, principal of Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota (an ASCD Whole Child Network school), and Jessica Bohn, principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina and an ASCD Emerging Leader, to discuss the qualities principals in today's (and tomorrow's) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders.
Listen to "Walking in a Principal's Shoes:"
"I believe that the principal still has a very important role in our schools today. Where things are changing ... is how we do our job. I think that's changing a great deal. [Thirty years ago], the principal was very authoritative and dictatorial—this is what they wanted done and everyone followed the direction of the principal. But today we're much more collaborative and work together. I heard a great quote at one of my confernces this fall where a leader in our principals' association stated, 'We do our jobs today through relationships and influence.' It stuck with me because it's a really great descriptor of what we're doing: we don't hand out orders any more—it's more about how we bring people together and move them forward as a group in a collaborative environment." —Kevin Enerson
"How everything has evolved [is that] principals are less directive and more intentional in their efforts. Instead of being reactive, today's principal is proactive." —Jessica Bohn
"Has being a principal been what I expected? The answer is probably 'no.' I think you always have a view of what leaders and principals and superintendents do, but until you actually sit in the chair or walk in their shoes, you don't understand all of the nuances and everything that goes on." —Kevin Enerson
"Sometimes principals make things look easy—they're in control, they know a lot—but there's a lot of background information and pieces to puzzles that are out there that you begin to learn about and you have to put all of those things together. That's the part that's really difficult to teach. You can go through scenarios, but unless you know all the nuances of what is this child going through and why are they behaving this way or why are they not learning as should? And what's going on in this teacher's life that may be impacting how they're doing their job? You have to help them work through those situations or improve." —Kevin Enerson
"The perception of the role of the principal may be different than the reality of the job. there are so many things that are thrown at principals on a daily basis and most people are not aware of what it takes to provide effective leadership in today's 21st century schools. Perception and reality can be a little different, so you have to work through some of those issues as you're adjusting from what you thought it was going to be vs. what it is."
Read Bohn's article in the principal leadership-focused issue of Educational Leadership about "First-Year Hurdles" where she shares additional tips for new principals and how districts can provide support.