The importance of effective school leadership cannot be overstated. For many years research has consistently pointed to the classroom teacher as having the most significant impact of all school-level agents on a student’s learning. Understanding that, one of the key roles of the principal is to ensure that the school is a place that supports teachers in ensuring student learning. That responsibility entails many things, all of which are detailed in the Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium’s (ISLLC) standards for school leadership. These standards calls on school leaders to promote the success of all students through the development and implementation of a school vision, creating and sustaining a school culture that is conducive to learning, effectively managing school operations, collaborating with internal and external school stakeholders, leading with integrity, and advocating for and acting on behalf of children within the larger state, national, and international education contexts.
District and state leaders must make a top priority of getting a highly effective principal into every school. There is no substitute for effective school-level leadership. Once that effective leader is in place, s/he must be given the authority to make real decisions. I find it unfortunate that in some places we have dramatically increased the level of accountability for school leaders, but we have restricted their discretion to the point where very little of what goes on in the school is under their control. Principals in too many of our schools are no more than middle-managers, carrying out orders from district administrators. We must continue to hold school leaders accountable for the success of their schools, but in turn, we must give them the authority to make real decisions in their schools.
We must attract, select, and retain highly skilled, passionate leaders in schools that are committed to creating inclusive and nurturing environments and improving learning for all children. Giving these leaders the authority they need to do their jobs would result in schools meeting and surpassing expectations. Throughout my career I have worked with many incredibly intelligent, passionate, and creative school leaders, and I know that we have the human resources to turn some of our poorest performing schools into exemplary communities of learning. We can start by eliminating outdated policies and practices that prevent school leaders from doing their jobs. That type of policy reform is an important step toward providing all of our children with a first-rate education.