School Leaders and Working Conditions
A few days ago, I posted on Hanushek, Kain, and Rivkin’s Revolving Door essay, where they suggested that monetary incentives take a back seat to working conditions in explaining teacher turnover and migration from high need/low capacity districts to lower needed/higher capacity districts. Due to the limitations of their data set, Hanushek et al could only describe working conditions in terms of student achievement and demographics. The authors acknowledged that the data did not permit an examination of factors like support, discipline, and bureaucratic environment.
Does school leadership make a genuine difference in the quality of working conditions and school effectiveness, or is the ideal of the super supe or the principal as instructional leader an idyllic Great Man (or Woman) pipe dream that defies realization? And is leadership still centered in the main office, or can teacher leaders like mentors and department chairs exercise distributed influence in the classroom?
My conviction is that good school leaders contribute substantially to good schools. To me, effective school leaders are characterized by technical competence, or expertise, professional ethics, and political skill.
The technically competent administrator is expert in subjects like assessment, intervention, differentiation, budgeting, and personnel. When coupled with actual teaching experience, they own a balance of theory and practice that teachers respect and supports instruction. The ethical administrator develops trust, maintains a positive learning environment by being a consistent disciplinarian and fostering an invitational tone, supports teachers and students, and doesn’t flinch from presenting bad news to parents of staff. I’d contend that ethical administrators worked to nurture professional learning communities even before DuFour popularized the concept. They are also into selfless service, although maybe at some personal cost. The politically skillful administrator is a communicator who engages parents, Boards, and the community at large in celebrating successes and identifying needs. They mobilize support to obtain resources for their school. These are the attributes I look for in myself and in my colleagues. But as a practicing administrator, I may be biased. Please share what qualities matter to you.
In sum, my questions are these. What do you look for in a good administrator? What qualities are the most destructive? And what is a good administrator worth to you vs. a big salary bump, or a new, larger classroom with adequate furniture, equipment, and supplies? How do we develop smarter, more effective leaders for America’s schools?