Why Effective School Leaders Delegate Authority
Some principals fall into the trap of attempting to be superman or superwomen, working crazy hours, and handling most of the administrative tasks themselves. In the end, they end up burning themselves out and being forced to retire early because of health concerns. There is no viable leadership pipeline because by failing to delegate authority, your assistant principals and teachers never gained the practical experience that it takes to build leadership skills.
Your school district will be forced to bring in someone from outside of your building, which further complicates things. For one, they have no idea how you ran your building, so they will be starting from scratch, with no viable leaders to assist them. Teachers, parents and students, and your assistant principals will have to get used to an entirely new way of doing things, and there will be a steep learning curve. In the end, students suffer. To further illustrate this, let’s look a scenario of what can happen when principals fail to delegate authority.
Scenario: Amy Paquinette took over the principalship of Sequoia Middle School after the previous principal had left in the middle of the year, citing health issues. In the three months that the school had functioned under the assistant principal, things had fallen apart. Her very first day on the job, Ms. Paquinette was horrified to find two students sitting in a hallway, bent over a video game. They claimed that their teacher had given them permission to leave the room. When she confronted the teacher, she found that it was true – the students had been disrupting the class, and the teacher had sent them to the principal’s office. But the acting principal told them he had no time to deal with them, and sent them into the hallway. There seemed to be no structures in place to deal with this type of situation.
The acting principal was sitting before a jagged mound of files. As Ms. Paquinette questioned him, trying to get a sense of the school’s situation, his eyes filled with tears. It transpired that the former principal had worked ten or twelve hours a day, six days a week, and had done everything himself. He had made it a point to visit every classroom once a day. All paperwork had to be approved by him. Every test had to cross his desk. All disciplinary cases were referred to him. He’d been able to sustain that for seven years. But finally, high blood pressure and a nagging stomach ulcer had forced him into sudden retirement. The assistant principal, who felt he was expected to keep the same pace, was overwhelmed and worried that his health as well would deteriorate.
In the vignette, Amy Paquinette discovers two students playing a video game in the hallway. As became obvious when she questioned them, they had fallen through the cracks of the leadership structure. Distributing leadership among many stakeholders not only relieves some of the pressure on the principal; it also casts a broader net. If other teachers or staff members felt responsible for the wellbeing of the students, they would likely have stopped to question the students before Ms. Paquinette got to them, or the acting principal would have had someone – the guidance counselor or the school nurse – to whom he could have entrusted the students.
Now reflect on the scenario and my commentary, and use your thoughts to shape your own practice.