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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Chapter 5: The Role of Administrators in the School

I once heard of a Symphony Orchestra whose members hired the conductor themselves and kept him as their conductor as long as he helped them to produce outstanding music.  If the conductor became unable to bring out the best the orchestra had to give, they fired him.  In other words, the conductor’s job was to make them sound good, not the other way around.  The same thing should be true of schools.  The principal’s job and the superintendent’s job should be to make the teachers look good.  Not the other way around.

The most prestigious position in education should be that of the teacher, not the principal or any other administrator.  The principal ideally should be a Master Teacher chosen by the teachers he or she is to lead to better teaching.  The principal should be a person of proven ability and experience who sets an example, knows how to monitor and to counsel teachers and helps them to reach the high expectations they have for themselves and their students.  The principal’s function should be to inspire, to motivate and to direct the staff.  The ideal relationship between the principal and staff would have the principal as first among peers, responsible to them and an advocate for them.

Some school systems contend that a principal does not need exposure to classroom teaching in order to function well as principal.  This focuses ona serious question about the role of principal.  is the principal to be the educational leader of the school or simply a business manager whose main job is to see that supplies and services are made available within the school budget, schedules are met and forms properly filled out?  A person serving in the role of principal could function adequately with only administration and management skills.  However, such a person is a business manager, not a principal.

It is time we recognize that the role of principal involves two different functions:  one of professional leadership, the other of administrating services.  These functions might best be served by separating the one position into two.  The more important and most prestigious function should be that of professional leader.  It is the role that requires more training and experience and therefore higher pay.  The person administrating services, however, could have many schools under his or her jurisdiction.  This is a more cost efficient way to administer schools since materials bought in volume become cheaper.

Also, since most state and federal forms and requirements are the same for the district, it seems more efficient to have just one person to deal with them.  This person would also oversee the buildings and grounds and in general be doing what needs to be done, within fiscal constraints, to carry out the mission defined by the educational staff.  The principal and teachers should give their full attention to the main function of education:  students’ learning.

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