The Hub of the Wheel
374 principals weigh in on supporting teacher growth in their schools.
In order to shed light on the roles of principals in K-12, we set out to learn in which areas of running a school they’re most heavily involved and what presents their biggest challenges.
In a survey of 374 principals from 47 states, here’s what we found.
The Principal’s Role
It’s no surprise that principals find themselves at the intersection of many different areas of education. Human resources, the business office, instructional planning, professional learning — the principal touches each of these, although the degree of involvement in any given area may vary depending on the size, type and culture of the school.
Why Be a Principal?
Prior Teaching Experience
Want to be a principal? The best way to get there is to start by teaching. 99.7% of the principals we heard from had at least some teaching experience.
Who Sets the Strategic Direction?
The principal is a tremendous influence on the strategic direction of a school. Although principals in public schools were more likely to make strategic decisions in partnership with the superintendent’s office, the overwhelming majority said they were involved in this process to some degree.
Principal Involvement Across the School
Perhaps one reason principals have such a voice in strategic direction is that they’re involved in so many different aspects of running a school. When asked about their level of involvement in nine areas, most said either, “Heavily involved” or “I am the primary decision-maker” for every single one.
What’s On Their Minds?
Creating instruction to meet the needs of all learners is clearly a high priority for schools. Most principals considered this issue somewhere between “Fairly serious” and “Very serious” for their school. And when asked how well they were managing, fewer than half said “Well” or “Very well.”
Evaluating staff is a vital component of growing the effectiveness of a school, so it’s not surprising that only 1 out of 5 principals said that implementing effective supervision and evaluation was “Not an issue for us.” And overwhelmingly, principals felt their schools were managing this area at least “Acceptably.”
Most principals also agreed (39%) or strongly agreed (12%) that their school had allocated significant resources for teacher supervision and evaluation techniques. Yet when asked whether the process was efficient and not overly time-consuming, only 38% agreed.
Clearly, many — and perhaps most — would like a more efficient way to evaluate teachers.
The real question is, do evaluations help teachers improve their practice? When we asked principals whether they agreed with the statement, “Our teacher evaluation processes are effective at helping teachers improve their skills as teachers,” the results weren’t encouraging.
Fewer than half (49%) responded positively.
How are schools and districts handling professional learning? Is it having an impact in the classroom?
Principals are clearly invested in professional development. When asked how serious is the issue of making professional development meaningful for all staff, 64% said it was either “Fairly Serious,” “Serious,” or “Very Serious.” Most also indicated that they offered professional development for all faculty and staff, not just for teachers.
It’s common to hear about low teacher engagement in professional learning, so we asked principals how things looked from where they stood. The numbers didn’t look bad, but certainly had room for improvement: 59% believed they had high teacher buy-in to professional learning.
More sobering was whether they could point to positive classroom impact as a result of professional development. Nearly half of the respondents could not confidently say, “Yes, we see positive impact on how our students are doing as a result of the professional learning we offer.”
Although the challenges and opportunities in one school may have similarities to another, no two schools — or principals — are the same. Yet one thing is true virtually across the board: principals influence many, many areas in their schools: staffing, evaluations, professional learning, internal and external communication, instruction, compliance and countless others.
This position arrives heavily packaged with responsibility and demands for time; that was clear from the number of respondents who expressed an interest in learning more about time management. As principals respond to demands from inside and outside their schools, the need for competent staff, effective organization and efficient processes for handling the workload will continue to grow. This is necessary work for educational organizations of all stripes — not only to aid principals in their work, but also for the sake of the people who rely on them for leadership: teachers, staff and, not least, students.
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About the Survey Data
Out of the 43,000 we surveyed, 374 principals or assistant principals from 47 states responded. Most (nearly 68%) said they work in school systems with fewer than 2,500 students, though some said they were from much larger districts of more than 200,000. Almost 2/3 of respondents told us they served in public schools, while 28% were in private schools and nearly 8% were in public charter schools.
The principals who answered our survey oversaw buildings containing students in Pre-K, elementary school, middle school and high school, with elementary (62%) and middle school (50%) grades most strongly represented.