Bedford Ramblings
Steve Mills

What makes a good school principal?

Posted Tuesday, July 29, 2008, at 10:29 PM
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  • I am not sure how one is selected or exactly what makes them qualified, but I am pretty sure it is a political (local) as well as a merit based decision. I am not even sure how to judge what conditions make a principle "good" at their job. It would be easy to say test scores, but I think that would be unfair.

    I always thought the world of my principle in elementary school, but I dont know that he did a lot except to mostly try to stay out of the teachers way and watch us play. What exactly is a principles job responsibility to your understanding, other than managing the administrative needs of the school, and how exactly can we quantify that?

    -- Posted by memyselfi on Wed, Jul 30, 2008, at 12:23 AM
  • Understanding a principal's responsibility is part of the reason behind this post. I want to know the concrete responsibilities in order to understand the criteria for selecting a principal. I tried searching the internet to see what is out there about Tennessee but so far I have found many other State's and University opinions, not TN.

    I do not know to what level the principal oversees the educational functions of the school. Do they really have to know the teacher's job inside out, or do they rely on the teachers to do their job and give guidance and assistance where needed?

    In a company, the plant manager has general ideas about the jobs being done, but in order to do their job well, they have to rely on others who have expertise in specific categories. A manufacturing manager, procurement manager, accounting manager, personnel manager, etc., who also have people working for them.

    The principal oversees all those types of things, plus community involvement, discipline of students and personnel, legal issues, maintenance, educational standards, guidance/counseling of the students and personnel, plus what else. With that said, I doubt that any one person is able to get deeply involved in all of those, so what level DO they get involved?

    With a strong Assistant Principal and the depth of knowledge from within the teachers, I don't think a Principal has to be a strong educator. If they are, they are probably wasting their skills with the management of the school.

    In my opinion, they need to be organized, a people person and a motivator. They need to make sure their teachers and support personnel have everything possible to do their job and then let them do it, without micro-managing.

    A school is a small community and if the Principal is actively involved, they will quickly know what part of the system needs improvement. If a teacher is having problems, the Principal assists to help them grow and improve or, if things do not work out, they have the tough decision to make a change.

    I have seen numerous people placed in a position like this when they are not ready or may never be ready to handle the job. The result is often an ineffective style of management that is allowed to exist for far too many years for a number of reasons. One reason I hate to hear is politics.

    Our students and our community deserve more than to have education be based on who knows who. I have seen excellent teachers "wither on the vine" or lose their fire because of ineffective management. To me, that is criminal.. Maybe it is not to the point of litigation, but at the very least, removal from the position.

    This is not saying that the person did not try, but some people are not cut out for the careers they have or think they want and it is often better for all concerned to help them find other, more suitable employment. I have seen both sides of this equation and in most cases, life goes on quite well.

    There is much more to this subject that I would like to hear others discuss. I know I do not have all the answers, have MANY questions and want to learn more about the inner workings of our educational system.

    For example, I believe there is tremendous pressure placed on our teachers to fill out forms, meet certain criteria that fulfills little towards the true education of our children, create plans that go nowhere, except to satisfy the 'system'. So much so, that I wonder how they have time to teach. How do they find time to work with the students individually, slow down for some yet speed up for others? How do the Principals do the same, but tenfold?

    There is so much more that I do not understand, so I truly hope we can learn from this discussion. If it is not a topic of interest, maybe someone can point me in the right direction to gather the knowledge I seek. I can, and will ask the Board of Education, but I don't think it will be the only place from which to learn.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Jul 30, 2008, at 8:04 AM
  • I had Terry Saylor in High School. He was hard and feared by most. I spent more than my share of time in his office, but I was able to get to know him on a more personal level through my poor decisions which often landed me in either his or V.P. Jimmy Crick's office.

    He truly did care about the kids and wanted the best for them. I'd have to give him a degree of credit for how I turned out because he didn't cut me much slack when it came to discipline. At the time I thought he was tough, but I now appreciate the fact the he was only trying to guide me in the right direction.

    -- Posted by Mike Molder on Wed, Jul 30, 2008, at 9:28 AM
  • In second grade my principal had patience with a stubborn little kid. I refused to go into a class because the teacher was new, I did not know her and she looked tough. She was, but one of my better teachers because I finally go tired of licking envelopes in the Principal's office.

    My best influence was actually an 8th grade science teacher who was shorter than me! He was VERY tough, or seemed to be for the first two weeks of class. He molded that class and me to a point where we loved him and did not want to disappoint him.

    From then on, High School went smoothly and so did college. Amazing what a difference that man made in out lives. My family used to keep in touch with him for many years, but I don't know what happened to him now.

    His influence, along with my mother's love of education is something that still drives me to want to learn and grow. The first two years of college I struggled a bit, but from then on, I have been a perpetual student.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Jul 30, 2008, at 12:20 PM
  • I know you aren't wanting names but Derry Eakin was probably the best Principal I ever had in my life. I remember seeing him in town years after I had gotten out of elementary school and he still remembered me.

    He was firm yet caring every one of us loved him.

    -- Posted by Dianatn on Wed, Jul 30, 2008, at 1:20 PM
  • Kudos for great educators is fine, I just did not want to see the conversation become negative toward individuals. Sometime the blogs can abut carried away and I was wanting constructive information and ideas.

    Positives are constructive in my book.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Jul 30, 2008, at 8:18 PM
  • By the way, I did not know Mr. Eakin as a principal, but I did know him as a person and I can understand your sentiments.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Jul 30, 2008, at 8:20 PM
  • Well I think Liberty School has the best one in the county. And not just because of the female vice prin.who stands behind him.

    He is the best thing that has happen to that school in a long long time. He inter reacts with the students and even if he might be a little slow getting back to a parents phone call.He well earns the title of being the best.

    I would not want that job for any thing. But he has really done alot for that school. And I hope he never retires.

    -- Posted by Wheelbillie on Mon, Aug 4, 2008, at 11:02 PM
  • THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PRINCIPAL AS A whole,but what are we as awhole going to do about these unfair rules for our children at school? an "A" STUDENT at school today was written up because she did not have a belt on. she is a very sweet child and her feelings are hurt easily. what has our town and our world become? We allow the others to wear clothing that covers head,arms, and all the other parts of the body.Can they not hide weapons, or any other dangerous things that might hurt our children? PLEASE tell me why we as AMERICANS can not stand- up for our children's rights?


    -- Posted by silver on Mon, Aug 11, 2008, at 8:51 PM
  • Maybe one that will enforce a dress code so that the overzealous school board will need to find another reason to rob perfectly rule abiding students of the same individuality they were once allowed.

    Each individual school should be allowed to create its own codes anyways, because no school is the same in this county and each has its on unique problems...

    As noted two schools in thy county are low performing schools, yet the school board decided that a dress code was something to waste their time on. Priorities are something you teach children to emphasize and you do that when you lead by example, which would probably explain why two schools failed.

    -- Posted by darrick_04 on Tue, Aug 12, 2008, at 6:05 PM
  • First and foremost, To be a principal in Tennessee in general you must have a masters degree in Educational administration. Also I know that Bedford County requires a "principal test" some kind of written exam with a minimum score to apply for Principal positions. Anyone who meets these criteria may apply for an open principal job on the county job board. After this its up to a committee to pick the principal from available candidates. Ok now we can get to what makes a good principal. Good question my answer is patience and a love of education. In my opinion most don't meet this criteria. I know of one in particular this year who's game is just a little off. I believe that school for children especially elementary school should be a positive place. Start early with positive and it's more apt to stay positive. However one "intermediate" school here in town has started the year off by eliminating Recess and shouting,"Shut your mouth straight line" as they enter the building each morning. This reminds me of "Single file walk the line" which is used in correctional facilities and prisons. Also I do remember Childhood obesity being the new number one health risk for children in times such as this is this the best time to eliminate physical activity from our children's daily routine? This pattern of negativity cannot be good for a child's morale and character. Without positive reenforcement they are dooming these children, when it should be their job to nurture. This is a major concern I have within this single school that I feel needs further investigation by the TG. I wonder when did test scores become more important than the child taking the test?

    -- Posted by concerned dad on Thu, Aug 14, 2008, at 10:41 PM
  • concerned dad, I doubt the situations you refer to are limited to the school you have singled out. I also think your last question did not give the most important variable to be considered. It is not the importance of the child or the test, but the teachers, administrators and individual systems that apparently should be considered first. It is not the test, but how it is perceived. This test has consequences, and I think to be fair, it is perceived as a threat to those in charge. I am not a proponent of NCLB, but the resentment and resistance to it in our schools indicate to me that there may be some problems in some areas, and this will at least expose those areas. One benefit I do see is the potential of the removal of ineffective, but thoroughly entrenched faculty. I have noticed that some teachers do not age well. They start full of optimism that seems to fade away as quickly as the years do. I do understand how easily that could happen. They have to function in the same environment as the children and teach the children while doing it. From my experience with my own children, I realize some days that can be a difficult task.

    I also have a problem with the socialistic bureaucracy of schools in general. Your comparison to prison is not as un-realistic as you may think. I hated school for exactly that reason, and as a result my education suffered greatly.

    I like you, wish there was a way to provide all the children in our public schools with a positive educational experience that fosters both imagination and the desire for knowledge, but I am at a loss to even begin to foresee anyone achieving that with the system we currently have in place. I fear it would take much more change than we will likely see.

    -- Posted by memyselfi on Fri, Aug 15, 2008, at 12:31 AM
  • Concerned Dad:

    The reality is that things have changed thanks to lawsuits, government, technology, & humanities. Deery Eakin, Central Elementary Principal, was the BEST principal I know. Yet, he also was a principal in a time era when there was less diversity, less lawsuits, less technological advances, & trust, hugs, pats, holding hands, & showing affection of love & care towards other fellow faculty, parents, students were permissable. Mr. Eakin was like the Headmaster Father figure to not only the faculty & students but the parents as well. This is no longer allowed. Why? I don't know, except for maybe folks have become greedy for money & sue happy or just enjoy stirring up controversy & making a BIG deal over minor incidents. If you pat someone on the back you may be charged with sexual harrassment, or if you hug a child, you may be slapped with sexual child abuse charges, a faculty member may be wrongly accused of making sexual advances or statements that were misinterpreted. On the other hand, faculty are at times guilty as charged. Now we even have a language/cultural barrier dragging down school scores. I do not agree with it, but because of the guilty or not guilty incidents publicized & lawsuits paid out, we all must suffer the consequences & the rules are changed. I don't know the answers, but I can tell you from my personal experience of attending school in Bedford County that I was brought up in a different time era when #1. Everyone spoke English #2. Everyone was taught along with basic academics to respect this country & authority & be a good American citizen #3. We had daily Bible devotions & prayer in school #4. Our teachers & principals were like second moms & dads #5. We not only received spankings as discipline when necessary from our teachers/principal but from our parents #6. We were taught to exercise common sense & apply academic lessons into our everyday ordinary lives #7. We were taught to take personal responsibility....and we all seemed to turn out well. Many of my classmates have made successful careers as doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, pharmacists, optometrists, real estate agents, salesmen, chefs, etc. and all graduated from SCHS. Actually, I admire those who want to be teachers & principals in a time era with so much diversity, complexity, strict rules & liability issues. As for this dress code issue that keeps coming up at the least mention of school, I wish that the Board of Education would send home a student/parental/faculty survey to each student/parent/faculty member & let the student/parents/faculty voice the issues at hand. There is pros & cons to everything in life & I am concerned about students who do not have much supervision, parental involvement, & money that are struggling to comply to these strict standards that have been set by our board members.

    -- Posted by XoXo_notes on Sat, Aug 16, 2008, at 12:08 PM
  • At one time I seem to remember a survey that asked how we would allow our children to be disciplined. A survey on how we would like our children to be taught would be interesting, but would "big brother" allow us to determine that, or would "BB" types tells us what is best for our children? Not necessarily theirs, since many do not go to public schools.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Sun, Aug 17, 2008, at 1:29 PM
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