The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

What if there were no more Principals?

Four years ago, I found myself at a crossroad professionally. I loved teaching, felt that I was doing a good job, and found my work significant and rewarding. At the same time, I wanted to take on a bigger role in making key decisions in our school district, and to lend my voice to the conversation about the direction schools would take. It was with this in mind that I applied for an Assistant Principal position and moved into a role in school administration. I love the work that I do, and I believe that we need principals who share my core beliefs about putting students first and creating an environment where capable professionals can do their work. I would not change anything about my career path and never regret the decision that I made to step into a formal leadership role. Having said that, not a day goes by that I don’t miss teaching.

I don’t think that my story is unique. I think there are many educators who long for a bigger voice but don’t want to leave their classrooms. What would a shift in how teachers advance in their careers mean to the endless talk about education reform? What if teachers were the leaders, researchers, and shaped education policy?

Some groups are doing some real work to grow the conversation about teacher leadership. Among the leaders in the field is the Center for Teaching Quality, led by Barnett Barry. They’re an organization dedicated to the overhaul of the current landscape of public education by promoting a new view on the profession. Emerging realities of the new ways of teaching, learning, compensation, preparation, and the day to day roles of teachers are found in their recent book, Teaching 2030. Take a second to watch the video, it will inspire.

Oakland University, an institution that I am proud to be a graduate of, is the home of the Galileo Institute, a Master’s Program specifically for Teacher Leadership. Their department, through newsletters, conferences, partnerships, and even podcasts is working hard to grow the conversation in our county about teacher leadership.

The work of Oakland University and the Center for Teaching Quality is not only putting out research about how effective schools would be if teachers were influencing one another and leading from their classrooms, they are providing resources and facilitating dialog on how we can move from theory to practice.

Imagine what a teacher led school could mean for our profession, if instead of a principal, there was a lead teacher who, in addition to teaching some classes, could facilitate teachers in handling the regular duties taken on by an administrator. Would evaluations be stronger if teachers were working together to aid a process of goal setting, observation and reflection? How would our schools be different if we rearranged how we schedule our time to allow teachers to teach AND to plan professional development, work with the community, or distribute a school’s resources.

As we grapple with education reform, the time has come to really take a look at the roles that exist in a school to revisit the responsibility that teachers are taking on. Many of our best teachers leave the classroom to become formal leaders, it’s time to revisit how educators can be leaders from their classrooms.

As a principal, I still see the need for my role in schools each day. Working with families, serving as an ambassador for our school, making tough decisions, and taking the lead in situations are all vital parts of my work. However, the time has come for me to take a hard look at what I am doing and to ask the critical question “am I the best person to make this decision?”

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5 thoughts on “What if there were no more Principals?

  1. I agree with what you say. As a second year principal I often ask myself the same question. My fear is that there are not enough teachers in my building who would ask that question. I have many leaders in the building, but when things get rough, I am a high school principal, I ask could someone else handle that.
    Our job isn’t always acaedmics and goal setting, I wish it was, and I think that is why we still need principals. I also feel that it is our job to cultivate other leaders, so that if we were to leave, someone could slide right in seemlessly.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for taking time to respond. I agree, there are some responsibilities, such as when our work goes beyond academics and into the moral responsibility we hold as educators to our communities that still require formal leadership of some kind.

      I think that fostering teacher leaders is the best way to cultivate other leaders and set up the next person to sit in our chairs when our time has passed.

      Thanks for making time to respond!
      John

  2. Jenna Reynolds on said:

    Mr. Bernia,
    I thought your post was very insightful. The idea of an education system existing without principals was something that has never occurred to me! I think the progression of “teacher-preneurs” that the video incorporates would provide the transition, if it were to happen. However, it seems to me teachers already have enough on their plate, and a system such as this would probably require more schooling and training- not something everyone wants to do. In accordance with you, I believe that there will always be a need for an authority figure. Perhaps this vision will be carried out as a new form of administration instead. All very interesting, worrisome but exciting for the future!

    Jenna

  3. Pingback: Our PD day next week: Teacher Leadership « The Principal's Principles

  4. Pingback: Reflections on our PD day: Real Teacher Leadership « The Principal's Principles

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