What are the New Responsibilities of our School Leaders? … An Excerpt from From At-Risk to Academic Excellence

Today’s teachers, principals and superintendents must respond to a host of new challenges: diversity of cultural backgrounds, waves of immigration, income disparities, physical and mental disabilities, and variation in learning capability. Increasingly, schools must adapt to address the needs of at-risk, nontraditional learners. Wherever teacher education programs have not kept pace with these challenges, many of their graduates must learn on the job, under the tutelage of their school leaders. And the tasks of scheduling, programming, ensuring security, and providing counseling have all become more complex.

Schools can no longer afford to offer one-size-fits-all education. Today’s society demands an individualized approach that caters to the needs of each child. Today’s educational leaders cannot rely solely on traditional methods of teaching and learning; they need a new repertoire of skills and approaches.

New Responsibilities Require New Qualifications

In the olden days, we could sum up the principal’s role in a few words: to manage the building and head the school; to be a pal to students, parents, and teachers; to be a leader of teachers. Consider a list of the major leadership responsibilities outlined for today’s principals (see chart).

Most of an educational leader’s time is spent managing the school. This requires that the principal have the skills and competencies appropriate for businesses as well as the schoolhouse. But, contrary to popular opinion, the principal is not the CEO of the school. At best, the principal is the middle manager in a system of rules, regulations, and mandates from above””at the bottom of the pyramid of true policymakers.

But command and control theory no longer works in education””not in the classroom or in the administration of schools. The days when principals and/or superintendents could order people to do things are over. Traditional top-down models of school leadership do not work in an educational environment where workers possess as much education and experiential knowledge as the nominal leader. Only collaboration will get the job done.

And the job remains daunting. We judge our principals and superintendents by a new bottom line: their students’ academic success. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, we cared about equality of access and opportunity. Today, with the emphasis on higher standards, we focus on proficiency of achievement. We no longer expect school leaders to simply usher students through grades at a level of learning that matches the population or its special needs. Each year, the numbers must show improvement. Politicians, business leaders, the media, the public and the parents must provide the leadership to make that happen.

This article is an excerpt from the publication From At-Risk to Academic Excellence: What Successful Learners Do – by Franklin P. Schargel, Tony Thacker, and John Bell; published by Eye on Education Inc.