With the ongoing conversation about students’ academic success and the continued push to hold teachers almost single-handedly accountable for their students’ academic achievements, I have heard little in the way of the personal responsibility of school and district leaders. But nothing could be more important because the tone and vision of our school leaders dictates the chances of success for students and teachers.
School and district leaders should hold credentials that attest not only to their educational prowess but also to their character. As the primary leader, the principal must be the epitome of excellence on all fronts. He or she must be held to the highest of standards by the State Education Department, the Department of Education, and the teachers, students, and parents whom he or she interacts with (hopefully) daily. District leaders impact so many lives. They need to be more visible and accessible to the ones whose lives they impact.
This concept of seeing school principals and district leaders as moral leaders is not a new phenomenon, although it is a principle (pun intended) that seems to be rarely required. According to psychologist Maurice Elias in a recent Edutopia article, exemplary leaders bring a sense of purpose, justice, temperance, respect, empowerment, courage, and a deep commitment to the organizations that they serve. “The skill-based performance of leaders,” he writes, “must be judged along with the character of that performance.”
If we take that laundry list to heart and evaluate principals and district leaders by those criteria, how many of them would actually measure up? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all principals and district leaders are ill-equipped to function within their roles. I happen to know and have worked under the leadership of some very fine principals who had the experience and the desire to make those in their care feel welcomed, needed, trusted, and deeply valued; however, too many (enough for it to be noticeable within school communities across the City) are little more than the degrees they procured. Too many school principals circumvented the C-30 process in some way, shape, or form, and obtained their principalships by less than upstanding means, often with the diabolical assistance of corrupt district leaders. Too many school principals stay locked in their fancy-schmancy offices without having a clue as to what is really going on in their schools on a daily basis, while collecting six-figure salaries annually. Too many school principals and district leaders are disenchanted with educational leadership and disconnected from the students and teachers they are commissioned to lead into greatness.
It’s time we hold not just teachers, but EVERYONE who plays a part in training up the students of New York schools accountable for the betterment of their futures. School principals and district leaders are no exception.