What makes a good principal?

This post has been rumbling around in my head for a few days, but was pushed along lately by a conversation with my colleague Justin Miller (@boundstaffpress) who was thinking along very similar lines.

What has us worked up these days, besides the impending merger of our high school with the town’s middle school, is that our current principal, Bud Ozzello, is leaving for a job with the statewide activities and athletics organization, CHSAA. Its a great move for him, but most of the staff will be sorry to see him go.  That alone should tell you that he was doing something right at our school.

So what does Bud do that makes him a great principal? I’m not going to throw out any test scores to prove how well he was doing; that’s a job for someone else who thinks that tests can measure this sort of thing. I will, however, mention two traits that I think helped Bud become a great principal.

First of all, Bud is always approachable during the school day.  His office door is usually open, except when he has some private meeting to conduct.  Even if he is on the phone with his door open, he recognizes when staff members come to the office to talk and often invites them in until the call is done. Although he has a busy schedule, he makes time for important conversations or arranges later meetings to talk more in depth if his schedule does not allow for complete resolution of an issue. In short, communication between administration and teaching staff is welcomed and even promoted by Bud’s conduct as a principal.

More importantly, I think most staff members at our high school feel that their concerns are being heard and acted upon.  We know that he pays attention to our concerns and ideas since he returns emails and IM’s with thoughtful comments or invitations for further discussion.  This year, for example, Bud has been very supportive of staff initiatives in a variety of areas including reforming our grading systems, trying 1:1 technology solutions, and providing some of our own professional development through sharing of best practices and resources.  I can’t say that he endorses every idea to come across his desk, but he clearly values the conversations that he has with his staff and sometimes acts on their recommendations.

Am I presenting a picture of the guy that is too idealized and sappy? Probably. Some of my fellow teachers can set the record straight in the comments, if they dare. But overall, in my 11 years of teaching, Bud is one of the few administrators that I will be sorry to lose.

So for all of you budding (and current) administrators, my advice to you is, like Bud, to cultivate open, collegial relationships with your staff rather than assuming a ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy of administration.  There are teachers in every building who have ideas about how to help students learn and are itching to try new things in the classroom. I recommend that you identify those teacher leaders and put them to work for you as experimentalists in the classroom, testing out their ideas and sharing the results. It will make your job easier and their classrooms will be stronger for it.

  1. Nancy Westfall’s avatar

    Chris, in my opinion, you are right on with your assessment of our principal, Bud. I do wish him well in his new position, and will certainly miss him as our leader during the coming months of building and personnel transition.
    I look to all of us to take a hand in paving a positive path for kids as we combine our buildings and staff to create a new school community. It is my hope that our new leadership team will indeed look to our teacher leaders and utilize their strengths both as classroom innovators and PLC leaders/mentors.

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