Principal Interview Essay

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Interview with a Principal

List the ten most important tasks / duties performed by a principal.

In the interview conducted with the principal, she suggested there are more than ten important tasks a principal must perform, but in general she was very forthcoming and helpful. She pointed out that the ten mentioned are not necessarily in any particular order, because when comparing one principal's tasks in a small rural elementary school (with 86 students) to the principal's duties in a big city middle school with 1,200 students, there are vast differences in the priorities and duties of both principals.

First Important Task: Basically, she described a principal's main job as having to do with supervising teaching so that real learning is taking place. The principal must be responsible for the implementation of the curriculum, which are the nuts and bolts of what students are expected to learn while in school. She said that the principal must have a leadership role when the curriculum is being developed but the principal does not single-handedly develop curriculum. She noted that not every principal would agree that the primary responsibility of a principal is to oversee the success with which teachers have vis-a-vis the curriculum.

"But for my school, of all the management and accountability issues I deal with, I feel that overseeing and guiding the teaching of the agreed-upon subjects within the curriculum is number one. When children leave my school for their next step in their educational careers, I want them to be confident in their own capacity to learn more and to use what they learned here."

Are the best practices being used in the classroom? This is an important part of the responsibility of the principal -- making sure (through managerial strategies) that what the curriculum presents is being deftly taught in the classroom. Since the role of the principal has changed over the past few decades -- from operational and fiscal duties along with hiring and firing staff and teachers -- to one of overseeing teaching and learning, many principals have found enjoyment in actually being more in touch with the classroom, the principal explained during our interview.

Second Important Task: This is a debatable point, the principal admitted in the interview, but today a principal is duty bound to make sure reforms (and updates in curriculum that are introduced and mandated by state or federal guidelines) are properly implemented. "When it comes to student achievement, the buck stops here," she explained. She said that teachers have a moral, social, and contractual obligation to follow the path that has been laid out for learning, but if a teacher fails to present the material correctly, or otherwise is not competent to carry out the curriculum / plan for learning, it is the principal's duty to either re-train that teacher or replace the teacher.

She said the controversial legislation, "No Child Left Behind," is an example of a federal law that schools were required to adhere to; and albeit not every teacher or administrator agreed with the statutes, it was her job "…to make sure what was mandated actually got done." In any event, her second most important task, in her opinion, is to build a cohesive community within the structure of the school, to engage teachers in "…shared decision-making" so they have a stronger sense of commitment to reforms, initiatives, and changes in curriculum.

Third Important Task: Along with making sure the curriculum is properly conveyed to the students (through teaching competencies and observations of the teaching processes and strategies by the principal) an important duty of the principal is to make certain that student and teacher staff have a high morale and a belief that what they doing is pivotal for the students' future. The principal must be able to create a "shared vision within the school community," she explained. Within that context, the principal must assure that the school is clean and well-lighted; that it is safe (especially in large urban areas where crime and unemployment make the streets and sidewalks places of concern for students coming to and leaving from school); that all the equipment is functioning well; that the building is warm in the winter and as cool as possible during the warm days; and that there is a sense of strong purpose and commitment.

One way to assure a good spirit within the teacher and staff community is for the principal to be in close contact with staff, be a good listener, and take criticism seriously.

Fourth Important Task: This is a very crucial part of a principal's job: making sure the school has strong and productive interactions with parents and others in the community. Very often the principal needs to interact and cooperate with parents and community leaders to ensure that the community is aware of what is going on in the schools; and moreover, bringing parents in to help teachers with projects (and special event celebrations) creates a strong bond.

Fifth Important Task: It was mentioned briefly earlier in this paper, but a vitally important duty of the principal is to make absolutely certain that the school is safe. There have been instances in the news in recent years where uninvited persons have come on campus with weapons and killed students. While this is not commonplace, it does cause parents to worry and so the building should be locked during school hours; and in dangerous communities, an armed guard may be required, depending on what the school board determines is needed. Safety on the playground is also very important; this calls for supervision that is trained and alert for potential bullying incidents during recess and lunch periods.

Sixth Important Task: Cultural diversity is a reality today in most American towns and cities, and the cultural make-up of any community is manifested in the school as children from immigrant families -- and others of ethnicity different from the mainstream majority -- are part of today's classroom. The principal must show leadership in making sure that not only fairness and impartiality are part of the teaching approach, but that the culture of all students (Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans, Asians and others of culturally diverse groups) is celebrated at some time in some way during the school year. Disabled students also deserve to be made to feel that they are an important group within the community of students.

Seventh Important Task: The principal is accountable to the state for accurate attendance records. In most states, schools are awarded funds based on the attendance records. In other words, it behooves a principal to make sure all students enrolled at the school attend as often as possible. Truancy is unacceptable for a principal because she is counting on getting funds from the state based on the number of children are in attendance each day. If a student is truant often, the principal must investigate (or have a vice principal investigate) to see if the parent is aware of the child's truancy, and to get that student back into the classroom.

Eighth Important Task: The principal has a fiduciary responsible to live within a budget -- and to present a budget proposal to the school board each fiscal year. Moreover, the principal must be accountable when it comes to purchase orders, spending on facility improvements, on special events, on athletic supplies and expenses, and out-of-pocket expenses.

Ninth Important Task: Is the school a place that is recognized as a nurturing, caring institution where students learn to solve problems and they learn to view others with open minds and hearts? Is the school creating a culture where positive attitudes are the norm and negativity is discouraged? If not, the principal is not being fully accountable and is not pursuing policies that are sustainable, according to the principal that was interviewed for this paper.

Tenth Important Task: Student discipline is important to any principal; the rules pertaining to deportment must be fully explained to teachers, parents, and students, so where there are violations of the rules the sanctions implemented will not be seen as unfair.

Does a principal need special training? Yes, principals, like teachers, must expect to attend training seminars in order to keep up-to-date with the dynamics of school leadership.

Does anything on the list surprise me? Actually, it was a little surprising that the principal listed the principal's duty to interact with parents and the community as the fourth most important task. But looking all ten of the duties over again, I can clearly see several are interchangeable and depending on where the school is located (what the community is like that sends children to the school) a duty that is #7 in one school might be #1 in another school.

Which of the duties will be most challenging for me and how will they get done? For me the eighth most important duty -- dealing with budgets, finances, percentages and math -- will be challenging since math and financial projects are not my strong point. I will…[continue]

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