School Leadership: Five Key Functions for Principals

The requirements of school leadership principals bring to their schools and their students, teachers and support staff have undergone a radical transformation over the past 10 years. Where once it was enough for a principal to be simply a hands-on manager and administrator, times have changed, and more is demanded of their roles.

While the specific duties of principals will vary depending on whether they oversee an elementary, middle or high school, there are several factors that are universal to bringing about the developments and improvements needed to restructure under-performing schools. In addition to the critical work of overseeing improvements in student academic achievement and administration and facility management, they must have human services skills for dealing with staffing issues, such as the hiring and dismissal of teachers and support staff. As any principal will be quick to note, their professional functions don’t end there.

Increasing responsibilities

We now hold them more accountable than ever for the reformation and cultivation of an atmosphere conducive to learning and individual student development. In many cases, this will involve a complete restructuring of programs and methodologies required to turn around poorly-performing schools.

University of Georgia study

Most sources, such as a recent study conducted by the University of Georgia, agree that today’s principals need to be engaged in at least five key functions, and their related activities, to facilitate reforms and improvements in schools. These may include:

  • Vision – Leaders must articulate a strong and positive vision of how they want to see the school change as well as be adept at identifying problems and creating solutions for what they believe is needed to achieve changes and improvements under consideration.
  • Planning and goal-setting – Leaders need to be able to identify clear and achievable goals and communicate those to others involved in the restructuring process.
  • Sharing the decision-making process – Leaders cooperate and work with faculty and staff as well students, parents and others involved in the process and are flexible enough to let the plans grow and change as necessary to achieve the desired results.
  • Empowering and taking initiative – An effective leader starts the process moving, then allows his or her faculty and staff to bring their own visions and initiatives to the planning table, thereby helping them to ‘own’ the process of sharing ideas and perspectives of programs under consideration.
  • Development of faculty and staff – Leadership also includes providing support and opportunities for development to the faculty and staff, especially the newest teachers, for whom the first three years as an instructor are usually the most critical of their careers. Principals may visit classrooms on a regular basis to observe and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of teachers and support staff, and offer constructive feedback.

Wallace Foundation’s perspective

According to the Wallace Foundation’s Wallace Perspective, their version of five key functions include:

  • Creating a vision
  • Facilitating a hospitable educational climate
  • Encouraging others in leadership
  • Improving instructional quality
  • Managing human and other resources and processes to bring about needed improvements within the school.

Finally, with all of the functions in place, the programs are now fully integrated into the curriculum and other activities, and the original vision of restructuring is complete. Continued monitoring, as well as changes and more fine-tuning will be necessary to determine the eventual success of the planning and restructuring efforts.

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