Leadership in education has so many different dimensions and definitional issues that it’s very elusive, and has become more complicated since the involvement of business and political communities. Principals had for a long time served as managers of schools, but in the last 10 or 15 years there’s been a sea change in their responsibilities. Now, at long last, the focus is on instructional leadership. But the problem facing principals is that their preparatory institutions did not offer courses in curriculum programs until the mid-1980s, and many principals are not prepared for this new role; they need crash programs in instructional leadership. They now also are being asked to make contacts with community leaders and even in some cases state legislators to garner support for schools and programs. It is impossible for principals, as well as superintendents, to handle adequately the managerial, instructional, and political dimensions of the job. It is not surprising that these multiple demands are creating a shortage of educational leaders. It now takes 8-14 months to fill superintendency positions, as opposed to 3-5 months in decades past; and 85% of principals are scheduled to retire within a decade.
So what do we do? We have to find new kinds of team approaches to the job. We need to rethink the role and rethink who is best equipped to provide certain kinds of leadership. It is important to remember that while change occurs from the top down-business and political leaders are pushing change-it also has to come from the bottom up. Unless the teachers, principals, and frontline people “buy in,” not very much will happen. So one of the challenges is to build connecting mechanisms from top to bottom. Leadership will span these boundaries.
The issues of authority and accountability need to be addressed by schools seeking to restructure. To be successful, school-based decision making too must be characterized by coherence in its authority structure and accountability system.
Citizen accountability facilitates the accountability of educators and students. And authority for change must include students, must focus on them as vehicles for change, not just objects of change. Educators and parents need to acknowledge that students have a role in change and should even be on the board for school-based decision making. Establishing coherence is the key to leadership throughout an educational structure; it creates a system of checks and balances, with the community and state united in working towards a common goal: the students’ academic success. All the vision in the world won’t lead to much without coherence. Furthermore, before restructuring can begin, educators must be keenly aware of two principles: Cooperation and collaboration are necessary because they are key to establishing coherence in an educational system; and all students can learn at higher levels. Finally, schools need to focus on beliefs, standards, assessment, and accountability and have a system of change, incorporating in a coherent way all of these factors that are valued. After all, in the end, successful education systems are about values. Schools just need the courage to move and lead.
Education reform now involves high-stakes accountability. If schools are asked to have accountability to this degree, then the schools should be in charge. School accountability involves schools having the power to implement their own policies, which means school-based decision making. Stability in the schoolhouse is critical, and the principal is the agent for change-but in that comes no security. Yet, the principal is charged to rally teachers, who have total security and who have little reason to attend to the vision of a person who holds a tenuous appointment. The principals are finding that the illusion of power is worse than no power at all. Successful school reform necessitates an ingenious interweaving of responsibility, accountability, and authority. Intrusive behavior is a board member’s act of interfering with a school administrator’s assigned operational task(s) that exceeds the board of education’s delegated responsibility. Intrusive behavior can substantially hinder consistency in leadership, which is extremely important to organizational health. The problem with such intrusive behavior is that people in the educational framework become confused and wonder, “Who’s the boss?” and “Who do I listen to?” resulting in a monumental problem with role conflict and role ambiguity. This confusion wastes valuable time that could be spent on matters related to educating children. Instead of inspecting school facilities or instructing superintendents and principals on how to perform their duties, boards of education need to focus on student achievement.
Too often, board members do not have a clear understanding of their role and how they are to enact it unless they are specifically educated about that role. In short, the training of board of education members before they sit on a board should be mandated, and they should be contractually educated, not just taught. The time spent on training should be measured not in hours per year, but in numbers of issues covered in the training.
In a new survey, superintendents indicated principal shortages in all types of districts; there were simply not many applicants for the positions available. Reasons cited for this principal shortage included the following:
- Compensation is not enough.
- Too much time is required.
- Board interference makes the job too stressful.
Since 2004, the principal’s role has changed dramatically. Now, the scope of the principal’s role is exploding, and principals are expected to take on many new responsibilities. Principals have been taught to be managers rather than instructional leaders, but they are now being asked to fulfill that duty as well-along with increased involvement in litigation, in special education, and in preventing school violence.