Preparing Principals for the Real School

In the state of Illinois, the way to become a principal is to have some coursework, some testing, and 4 years experience teaching.

But is that enough?  As a community member (and mom to a future student), I wonder if we are adequately preparing teachers to take the step up to leading a school.  We ask teachers to lead a classroom, to inspire young minds to learn.  And then we assume that if they do that well and jump through some hoops, they are ready to lead an entire school.

With Race to the Top funding, more people are asking about requirements.  Illinois has revised it’s processes recently, but there is still no experiential learning component.  Some states have investigated this issue, and have come up with action plans.  For example, Massachusetts requires on-site training and mentor-ship by current “highly-effective” principals.


Time and time again, when we discuss quality school leadership, it’s usually centered around the person.  A charismatic friend that supports the teachers and knows students by name.  A tireless beacon of hope to the parents.  And at schools that are lucky enough to have such a principal – it is almost impossible to replace that retiring principal with someone who meets the school’s expectation.  The new principal knows the rules and budgets, but doesn’t seem to have the same spark.

Could it be that they are so afraid of their new role that they are stiff and unsure of themselves?  Teachers, like other professionals, are able to student teach before entering a classroom to head it on their own.  Why shouldn’t a principal be offered the same opportunity?

Problems do arise when we start examining this model.

  • Is the prospective principal a teacher?  Then who will watch their class during that time?
  • Where does the money for the substitute come from?
  • Does the teacher need a semester or year to job-shadow a principal?
  • How do we define “highly-effective” principals?

But even with these questions, we still need to look at the viability and potential gains we could see from implementing a principal training model.  Our students and teachers deserve it.

For more information on the “principal pipeline.”


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