To Be an Effective School Leader, You Must Be an Instructional Leader
As principal, you are expected to be one of, if not the best teacher in the building. You can’t be an effective principal if you were never an effective teacher. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It just won’t work. As the instructional leader, you must spend at least 20 percent of your time observing teachers, evaluating them, and helping them to grow.
You can’t do this unless you know what good teaching looks like, and as I have already established, this comes with experience. If you are up for the challenge, you will see your teachers blossom under your tutelage and instructional leadership. If you are not, then you will see your students suffer, all because you wanted to escape the rigors of the classroom and become a principal. Just calling a spade a spade.
Now let’s practice your ability to give teachers corrective feedback. In the scenario below, Principal Cho must confront Mr. Raffles about his lack of emotional intelligence. What are three constructive things she could say that would allow him to connect more solidly with his students? Reflect on your answer and use your thoughts to inform your practice.
Scenario: Jeremy Raffles was a physics and chemistry teacher at Elton Park High School. He had graduated with top honors from one of the most prestigious universities in the country, and the principal, Laura Cho, felt honored that he had chosen to teach at Elton. In his first two years, he’d transformed the science lab, bringing in new equipment and creating elaborate experiments, and he dazzled the staff with his impromptu lectures on new techniques in teaching chemistry.
Ms. Cho always gave teachers a bye their first year – she figured that it took a year to settle in and find their style. After the second year, she would evaluate their performance. When she looked at the grades of the older science students after Mr. Raffles’ second year at Elton Park, she was dismayed: nearly all of the grades, except for those of the extremely gifted students, had dropped since Mr. Raffles had begun teaching.
Ms. Cho called some of the students into her office and asked them to describe their learning experiences with Mr. Raffles. It emerged that, while they respected his intelligence, he had an off-putting, and at times wooden, manner. He would occasionally ignore or mock questioners if he felt he’d already covered the material. One student complained that when she went to the lab after school for assistance, he’d shouted at her to leave, because he was in the middle of an experiment. He seemed to talk only to the top two students in the class, and they were the only ones who could understand him.
Following the conversation, Ms. Cho realized that she would have to confront Mr. Raffles, and talk to him about the need to connect emotionally with his students. A brilliant academic pedigree was excellent, but it needed to be accompanied by empathy and good manners if learning was to take place.
To help Mr. Raffles develop the emotional intelligence skills that he needs, Principal Cho should consider creating a list of areas for improvement that would include academic skills and lab organization (at which he excels) as well as self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management, three areas where he lacks skills. In evaluating his responses to the list, she might start by emphasizing his intellect and lab skills, and then move on to a detailed, point-by-point explanation of what social awareness entails. This method would appeal to his rigorous scientific nature and would allow him to work through the issues intellectually.