Leadership through Management and Engagement
in an ERA of Standards & Politics

This year my subject is the role of the school principal. While much has been and continues to be written about it, this initial piece lays out the expanse of responsibility that goes with it.  I have been a school principal in Massachusetts and New York. Without hesitation I am compelled to say that I was more challenged in that role than any other position I occupied in education; and, I experienced nearly all of them from teacher to a NYS assistant commissioner.

The role of school principal, no matter the level, is the central factor in the status of a school and what it represents. While student and staff safety and welfare are primary responsibilities, the foundational function is the insurance of a climate of dignity and respect for all who work in the enterprise and all that benefit from it. Simultaneously, this foundational function is best expressed through the quality of teaching and learning in which it embraces.


It may sound prosaic, but we lead by example. Leading by example makes clear what is expected in the behavior of others. Leaders exude a pervasive excitement and energy for teaching and learning with the principal assuming the first role of teacher and student. The goal is always excellence with agreed upon targets all aimed in the same direction. The method of attainment is openness with an invitation for ideas. The school mission may appear at the entrance of the school as a constant reminder of what it represents to all, on entering the school, you should be able to feel it.


Principals are managers which is the basis of maintaining the day-to-day operation of the school. They keep the system running effectively; and, they address problems immediately. Caution must be taken so that management does not supersede leadership and the pursuit of learning. Priorities are critical and empowering others to assist in the operation is necessary to avoid being consumed.


Time is a critical factor in all aspects of a school operation from teaching/learning to teaming and just plain discussion; however, time must be made if the school is to stay on the pathway in its pursuit of excellence. Set-aside times are made for grade-level, subject area, and other forms of teaming to sharpen awareness of the status of school climate, teaching, learning, and assessment, as well as individual meetings to address personal concerns.


As expectations change, such as the advent of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next-Gen State Standards, the school must shift; and, this is where leadership and engagement are most important. Staff needs to be prepared through professional development and on-going access to information to be able to gauge and maintain effectiveness.


Political climates and what they foster will always be there. The key for school leadership is to know what they are, understand what they represent, and how they may affect the school. Addressing a politically charged matter may require assistance beyond the school, starting with central office.

Finally, while I view the school principalship as the most challenging position I held, I also see it as the most rewarding. It is at the school that it all begins and continues as the basis for life-long fulfillment.

Dr. Bruce H. Crowder is a senior researcher for Educational Vistas, Inc. His work is primarily focused on creating pathways for deeper learning for all students through student performance and a dynamic curriculum replete with strategic teaching. Dr. Crowder may be reached at bcrowder@edvistas.com