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Principals as Change Agents

There is a lot of focus on school culture — what that includes and how to improve it. While the establishment of a school's culture involves the entire staff, the students, their families and the community, the key to creating a positive school culture begins with the principal. As students look to their teachers as examples, teachers look to their principal.

Investing in Teachers

Los Angeles Unified School District teacher Phylis Hoffman shares that the culture at her school is excellent, and although the teachers play a huge role in that, their principal definitely sets the tone.

Hoffman says that her school principal invests in the teachers professionally. "I have never had so many professional development opportunities in my career," she said. They have had coaching focused on writing; they have worked with a literacy coach; and they have started working with a professional development coach for cognitively guided instruction for mathematics. In addition, the teachers are paid to stay after school for team planning sessions, and they are given planning time during the school day. The principal has also set aside money to pay for various summer institutes for the teachers. And he attends these coaching sessions, classes and programs along with his teachers.

Being Present

Joanne Rooney is co-director of the Midwest Principals' Center and Assistant Professor at National Louis University. While on a school tour, she was struck by the warm, energetic, student-centered atmosphere, and she credited the principal, Pat. In an article in Educational Leadership, Rooney shared, "As we walked the halls, it became clear to me that Pat was a constant presence in the building. She greeted students by name and chatted with teachers who stopped her with 'Do you have a minute?' One pre-teen boy greeted us with a high five and reminded Pat that he had not been tardy all month. Pat was interested in all of them."

Creating a Positive Culture

In a study of three high-performing schools of low socioeconomic status, educational consultant Shelly Habegger reported, "The principals in these high-achieving schools created a culture that empowered and instilled confidence in teachers as they prepared for achievement testing, solicited professional dialogue and research, valued their students and teachers, and sought the help of parents and community members to enhance the school's effectiveness."

Habegger found that these principals engaged in activities with students and staff, so they were always present. One of their goals was to help build positive relationships so that students would be motivated to come to school because of the support and nurturing they received. They also focused on supporting the school's mission statement, setting goals, empowering the teachers, and getting parents and the community involved. These principals made a point of being involved in curriculum mapping, working as a team and keeping information flowing to parents.

University of Texas Permian Basin

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Sources:

Education Week: Great School Culture: It Starts With the Principal

NAESP: The Principal's Role in Successful Schools: Creating a Positive School Culture

Educational Leadership: The Principal Connection/School Culture: An Invisible Essential

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