The Role School Principal, Interview Examp
I was recently fortunate enough to conduct an interview with the principal of a local elementary school. Because of the sensitive nature of her position, she asked that I not publicly identify her; other than that, she placed few restrictions on what subjects I could ask about, and she answered all of my questions willingly. In the course of summarizing the interview transcript I will refer to the principal as “Ms. B.” Because I had not previously engaged in this particular exercise, I chose to adhere closely to the areas of inquiry that were suggested by the prompt for this assignment.
According to Ms. B, student safety is one of the most important considerations in her role as school principal. Schools have a heightened awareness of the safety risks to students, and her school has extensive safety measures and protocols in place. Among the most obvious of these are the procedures involved in determining who is allowed to pick up students from school. Every student has designated people who have permission to pick them up. In cases where parents are divorced, it sometimes becomes necessary to keep wriiten information from family court and other resources on file; sometimes one parent is not allowed to have access to a student, and in such instances it is necessary to ensure that only the designated parent is allowed to pick up the student. In addition the campus has security measures in place to ensure that unauthorized people do not enter the school grounds.
Ms. B is actively involved in staff development. She meets regularly with teachers, counselors, and other staffers to discuss their concerns, monitor their progress with various projects, and to ensure that she is doing everything she can to create an environment that fosters growth and development. Some staffers are involved in ongoing educational projects, and she supports and encourages these efforts. As an example, Ms. B related that one of her guidance counselors is currently seeking a second Master’s degree in a related field, and Ms. B does all she can to accommodate the counselor’s school schedule and to ensure that the balance between work and school remains manageable.
Ms. B and her support staff are actively involved in developing the school’s curricula. The state sets rigorous guidelines, but within those guidelines there is still a fair amount of flexibility. Ms. B works directly with the teachers to ensure that the curriculum of each teacher meets state requirements while also fostering a dynamic learning environment for students. Ms. B did express some frustration with the way programs like NCLB have placed an increasing emphasis in the results of comprehensive testing, noting that teachers sometimes feel as if they have to spend too much time “teaching to the test.” Overall, though, she felt satisfied that her school offers a rewarding educational environment.
Maintaining the school’s budget is the most challenging part of the job, according to Ms. B. She claims that there is never enough money to accomplish everything she would like to accomplish, and notes that budget cuts have forced her to eliminate some programs she was fond of; as an example, she described a program for students whose parents work early that allowed students to be dropped off at school up to 90 minutes before classes started. This program had to be eliminated recently as there was not enough money to maintain staff for it.
Ms. B is involved in all HR decisions at the school. The school district maintains an HR department, of course, but school principals typically have final say about anyone who gets hired at the school. Though discipline problems typically reach her first, anything that is serious will be handled by the school district. Ms. B maintains, however, that she has a wonderful staff, and that she has had very few discipline problems at her school.
Earlier in this school year, Ms. B’s school held a fair for students and parents. Ms. B herself got into the “dunk tank,” where people can toss softballs at a target that forces the “dunkee” to fall into a pool of water. “It’s all part of the job,” she laughed. Ms. B and her staff have numerous outreach programs with local businesses to seek donations of money, goods, and services for needy students and families, and are actively involved in various charitable efforts as well.
When asked about the “best part of the job” and the “most challenging part of the job,” Ms. B gave the same answer: the students. Two of Ms. B’s own children attend her school, and they serve as a daily reminder that every single student at her school is someone’s child, and is loved by someone as she loves her own children. She sometimes feels overwhelmed by the responsibility she has to keep students safe and to help them grown into happy, productive adults. But, she says, she would not give it up for anything.
The written job description for School Principal is quite comprehensive; at first glance it seems to cover all, or at least many, of the situations a school principal would face and the responsibilities a school principal would bear. When discussing the job description with Ms. B, however, she laughed about some of what was listed in the description, as well as some of what was missing. As she put it, “there’s a lot more to it than anyone realizes.” Ms. B says that, as principal, she has to be a “politician, a psychologist, a baby-sitter, a teacher, a friend, and a boss” all rolled into one.
What the job description does not adequately address, as Ms. B describes it, is just how “crazy things can get.” Studies have shown that some school principals believe that their school districts job description does not accurately reflect that actual duties they must perform (Bayless, 1987). Most of the duties and responsibilities listed on the job description I discussed with her are accurate, asserts Ms. B, but what does not get mentioned is how often she has to be all of those things or do all of those things all at the same time. With so many hundreds of people in her school every day, situations are constantly arising that require emergency attention. It is her ability to quickly switch gears, asserts Ms. B, which makes her an effective principal. As the number of talented people who are seeking employment as school principals decreases every year (Heyd, Houdeck; 2010), it is more important than ever before to find the most talented candidates and to make sure they are up to the tasks of the job –even those that do not make it into the job description. It seems that while the job description is accurate on paper, no paper can fully describe the element of controlled chaos that, as Ms. B says, truly defines her role as principal.
School Principal Job Description from Blackboard
Bayless, John. “Competencies of School Principals in Job Descriptions and Evaluations.” University of Southern California, 1987.
Heyd, Steven; Houdek, Sherryl. “Job satisfaction among Minnesota high school principals.” The University of North Dakota, 2010.
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