How do Principals Impact School Culture?
The principal of a school is the captain of the ship, the leader of the pack, the Big Kahuna. The principal can make or break a school's culture. The best way I can fully illustrate the principal's impact is by giving two examples of principals that I have experienced.
Principal A was a long time educator. He lead his school with the motto, "I hire good people and I let them do a good job." He was not a micro-manager and allowed his teachers to take risks. Now, I am not talking about scary risks, but Principal A empowered his teachers to try new methods and techniques. He kept us accountable to our choices by asking what about the choice worked? What didn't work? Was the method worth using again as is or with modifications?
Principal A backed his teachers. If a teacher filed a behavior report, the principal took that report at face value. If an irate parent showed up at the school, he did not grant them access to teachers hard at work. Principal A provided opportunities for professional development and arranged for us to have our classes covered and workshops paid for before we arrived.
This is not to say Principal A was a push-over! Nothing could be farther from the truth. He had high standards and held us to them. But, under his leadership, we knew we could do whatever it took to succeed!
This high self-efficacy in the teachers bred the same self-efficacy in our students. They, too, were held to high standards. They, too, were rewarded for jobs well done. They, too, walked the halls with confidence... and the typical amount of kid chatter.
Principal B was a long time educator. Her motto, though never stated, seemed to be, "My way or the highway." She reminded us constantly that our employment was in her hands. She micro-managed and frequently popped into classrooms to berate students and teachers alike. Risks? Not on your life! She dictated the schedule, the methods and techniques, the dress code, and every single other aspect of school life. Teacher voice seemed unimportant and unworthy of being heard.
Principal B did not back her teachers. Teachers who still wrote behavior reports after the first few weeks of being degraded for writing them and not maintaining perfect student behavior, were hauled into the office for a standoff with the principal and the kid. The burden of proof was on the teacher, and our word counted for very little. Irate parents were greeted with near-glee as the principal had our classes covered so that she could march us in front of them like a firing squad. Professional development opportunities were shut down in favor of her extra long faculty meetings where she belittled each and every person over the course of the first semester.
Principal B was akin to a tyrant. Teachers had a code name that we used to let other teachers know she was approaching. Under her leadership we hid in our classroom, didn't attend as many after school activities, and kept our head's down.
This discomfort and fear in the teachers bred the same in our students. They were not immune to Principal B's never-ending wrath either. Students were pulled out of class and screeched at for the most minor uniform infractions. The result of Principal B's leadership was fear, distrust, and poor job satisfaction for teachers and students.
Sadly, Principal B is not an oddity spoken about like a mythical urban legend. Because of the shortage of qualified leaders, bad principals often remain at their posts long after they have run off teachers and students alike.
The worst was having a principal, like Principal A, leave for retirement or a promotion and having him replaced by Principal B. It really makes school culture take a nose dive when fair and transparent is replaced by fear and anxiety. I suffered two rounds of this type of change before taking matters into my own hands and becoming my own boss. Now the culture of my workplace is fabulous!
As a parent, if you are considering a school, please take the time to meet with the principal. Use your good parent radar! If something seems to glossy and perfect to be true, look a little harder. Ideally, I like principals who have children at the school they are leading, who are well liked by faculty, and/or who are very open and approachable. And, if ever you would like another set of eyes and ears, give me a call!