Monday, December 21, 2015

The Principal's Ultimate Mission

Student learning is no doubt the goal of every school in America, and as long as I have been a leader, that has been my goal.  I’m pretty sure that is your goal, too, but the illusive question becomes this, what one resource has the greatest impact on guaranteeing that more students succeed.  One can argue that we need better schools while the next person can argue that we need better teachers, but at the end of the day, kids must have access to quality instruction from several highly successful teachers in excellent schools for 13 consecutive years in order to experience the best success.   

Teachers are the only ones who can directly impact learning for every child, but they can only impact learning at higher levels when they work in school environments that actually help them get better at the art and science of teaching kids.   The fact of the matter is this.  We need to stop focusing on making better schools and/or better teachers.  

We need to create better schools that are deeply committed to making teachers better.

For too long, educators have been asking the wrong questions when attempting to solve the age-old dilemma of guaranteeing higher success for all students. Administrators ask questions such as the following.
  • How do we raise scores?
  • How do we get better teachers from the colleges and universities?
  • How do we get better walkthrough observation instruments?
  • How do we get better staff development for our teachers?

These are important questions, but they often lead to misguided decisions, short-term gains, and transactional leadership responses. Sadly, this focus on teaching generally leads to a recycling bin of traditional leadership answers.  If we want to truly make a major impact on student success, we, as leaders, must guide our thinking away from superficial targets and bureaucratic habits disguised as silver bullets.  We must close our minds to the questions of the here and now and focus our thoughts on a new vision for schools.  The questions we should fix our eyes on include the following:
  • ·      Why are we here?
  • ·      What makes a great teacher?
  • ·      How do we help make all teachers successful?

When we find the answers to three questions, we will actually begin to make it our mission to create better schools that in turn help make all teachers better at guaranteeing that all kids learn.  After all, if it is our mission to ensure that all kids to learn, then our leadership mission must focus on guaranteeing that every teacher becomes their very best for all kids.


  1. Great questions John. Your post gets right to heart of what it should mean to be an educator.

  2. I believe professional development is important part of all of this. Sadly, PD has not changed much. I still see and experience a lot of the sit-n-get and one-size fits all professional development approach. As a former teacher and now a school leader, the best PD, with the greatest impact on me professionally is the PD I seek and get for myself. We need to model and empower teacher to "feed themselves" and not rely on admin. or school districts to develop them professionally. PD needs to be personal.