The role of principal is certainly not an easy one, though. It requires long hours, doesn’t pay as much as the work demands, it rarely consists of authority equal to the responsibilities, and the job is simply becoming less appealing as the demand for accountability increases. Finding great principals is quickly becoming a crisis, and holding back efforts to reform education.
Traditionally, in order to become a principal you must have first taught, otherwise you won’t be able to effectively lead teachers since you don’t share or understand that experience. Along with having taught previously, to become a principal you must have proper certification. But these requirements for the role of principal shrink the pool of potential, and great, education leaders because they must come within the ranks of educators. That is not to say that there are not great education leaders to be found there, but there definitely are not enough.
This is why organizations like the Broad Foundation, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and the Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL) at the George W. Bush Institute are working to change the ways principals are recruited, evaluated, and supported. The most immediate and potentially effective means of recruiting great principals is to widen the field of potential candidates; rethink the teaching and certification requirements, because a “certified” leader isn’t necessarily a qualified leader. Limiting the field to only those who have taught or are certified neglects the fact that there are many qualified candidates who are knowledgeable about K-12 education and have a proven track record of great leadership.
Principals must also have authority equal to their responsibilities, especially in regards to personnel matters. Additionally, principals should be well paid to attract and retain great leaders. Traditional thinking has done little to improve or change things throughout time, and it has certainly done little to improve K-12 education. It is time to start thinking outside of the box about all means of education reform, but especially when recruiting and developing principals. We cannot overlook the importance of this role, because great schools can only be created through great leadership.