Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Administration/Principal

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to: navigation, search
What is the role of the principal?
In general, the school administrator acts as interpreter between the school staff and the outside staff, controls the traffic flow, facilitates the use of the services, and is in charge of whatever happens under the school roof. The principal has to set out policies for the release of students from the classroom and work with the clinic staff to schedule appointments at appropriate times.


If a principal literally wore a hat for every role he/she plays there would be two or three full hat racks in his/her office. The principal does not sit behind a desk and hand out punishments all day like television shows lead us to believe. The principal is a leader, supporter, mentor, disciplinarian, business manager, problem solver, safety manager, and much more. He/She has to juggle assistant principals, teachers, parents, students, office staff, custodial staff, cafeteria staff, security staff, and when one of these groups has a serious problem with another the principal handles it. In the real world, Principal Rooney would be too busy to worry about whether or not Ferris Bueller was taking a day off.


In today’s society “superintendents are holding principals accountable for student achievement” (Kaplan, 2005). With this increased pressure the principal must assume the role of instructional leader. The principal sets the tone for what is expected from the teachers in the classroom. In order for the principal to be an effective instructional leader there must be a partnership between the principal and the teachers in the school (Maulding, 2000). The principal and teachers must work together to increase student achievement. Principals may want to meet weekly with the teachers to discuss the progress with student achievement they are making in the classroom. The principal may also want to visit each individual classroom to observe teachers. Depending on the size of the school, weekly visits to each classroom may not be possible, but twice a month, or once a month at the least should be manageable for most schools. With schools all over the country increasing in size and the number of teachers increasing right along with it, a principal would most likely delegate the classroom observation task to his/her assistant principals. The principal would need to make his/her views on instruction crystal clear, so that the assistant principals would be seen simply as an extension of the principal.


When Dale Holt, Principal of First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was asked about his role as principal and how he related to the different groups in the school the answer that kept coming up was “support.” While Mr. Holt recognized that society viewed his most important role to be that of the instructional leader, he gave the impression that in order for him to be a successful instructional leader he needed to support his staff as well as the students and their parents. Lynne Lewis, a teacher at First Colonial High School, was asked about the role of the principal as it related to her. Mrs. Lewis’s first response was “supportive.” Mrs. Lewis has since gotten out of the profession.

In Ann L. Wood’s article, principals and novice (first-year) teachers were interviewed about the roles that principals play in novice teacher inductions. The study found that “when (novice teachers did) not receive principal support and guidance they often encounter(ed) problems teaching and/or (left) the school or the profession entirely.” As with any job, if the staff doesn’t feel supported, they will look for employment elsewhere. It is not the principal’s job to be a doormat and let his/her staff walk all over him/her, but it is the principal’s job to make sure that if an employee has a problem that employee will come to him/her. This same article stated that principals often recruit the new teachers and are usually the first and only people the new teachers know in a school (Wood, 2005). Since this is often the case principals must also realize that they will be seen as mentors, not only to the new teachers, but to the entire staff as well. The principal will not only need to support his/her teachers and help them solve problems, he/she will also need to be willing to answer any questions that the staff may have about their job.


The principal is no longer seen as the only disciplinarian in the school, but he/she is still the ultimate disciplinarian. Teachers, assistant principals, and security staff now have the authority to discipline the students and the principal gets involved only when the incident is major. When asked about discipline, Mrs. Lewis stated that teachers want to be independent. If they take every minor problem to the principal the major problems will not be seen as major. The teacher often handles issues that take place in the classroom, but when the problems escalate the next step is the assistant principal. Assistant principals are often assigned a group of students to handle and often the principal never has to be involved. The principal must be involved when the problem affects the safety of the rest of the students and staff. The principal is in charge of maintaining a safe and orderly environment and must take care of the problem. Once the problem makes it to the principal’s office, he/she must remember “to interact with misbehaving students without responding in kind and without becoming emotionally upset…” (Algozzine, 2000). The principal must remain calm and diffuse the situation without adding to it.

Lastly, the principal must manage the school as a business. He/She must make sure that those above him are kept in the loop about what is going on at the school and what the needs of the school are throughout the year. He/She must establish and maintain community relations. The principal must be aware of the laws regarding the rights of the students and staff as well as the school board policies.


The principal’s job is not easy. He/She is responsible for tens, hundreds, or sometimes thousands of minds and bodies, and that doesn’t include the teachers and other staff. Principals have a positive effect on professional development when they offer a vision of learning, support collaborative change, and discuss professional research with their teachers. Teachers who work in a stimulating and supportive environment can reach higher stages of professional development. The principal must be compassionate, but at the same time he/she cannot be worried about whether or not every person in the building is happy. At the end of the day all the principal can hope for is that everybody was safe the entire day and walked out of the doors knowing at least one more thing than they knew when they walked in that morning.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

1. Principal Jones is swamped with work and can’t observe Mrs. Smith’s class today. Principal Jones will look to __________ to take his place.
A. Mr. Brown, head of the custodial staff
B. Ms. Green, office secretary
C. Mrs. Blue, assistant principal
D. Mr. Red, security guard

C. Mrs. Blue, assistant principal

According to the reading, more and more ________ are being held accountable for student achievement.
A. secretaries
B. principals
C. parents
D. students

B. principals

According to the reading, the ______________ role is important to a principal but the ________ role is often just as important.
A. instructional leadership, supportive
B. instructional leadership, disciplinarian
C. disciplinarian, supportive
D. disciplinarian, business management

A. instructional leadership, supportive

Billy has been disrupting class everyday for a week and the teacher contacted parents and exhausted all avenues of addressing the problem. Who does the teacher take this problem to first?
A. the principal
B. the security guard
C. the cafeteria worker
D. the assistant principal

D. the assistant principal

Ms. Robinson is a new teacher at 123 High School. She is becoming overwhelmed by the demands of the job. Her colleagues tell her to hang in there and it will get better. She decides to go to Mrs. Smith, the principal, and see what she has to say. The principal should __________ when Ms. Robinson comes to her.
A. give her some flowers and tell her she’ll write a nice letter of recommendation for Ms. Robinson
B. tell her that her colleagues are right and to just hang in there
C. tell her one of her own similar experiences and assure her it will get better, but until then schedule weekly meetings
D. not see Ms. Robinson at all

C. tell her one of her own similar experiences and assure her it will get better, but until then schedule weekly meetings

According to the reading, what is the principal viewed as?
A. The only disciplinarian.
B. The ultimate disciplinarian.
C. Not viewed as a disciplinarian.
D. None of the above.

B. the ultimate disciplinarian

More often, principals are being viewed by superintendents as a/an ____________ leader.
A. team
B. curriculum
C. department
D. instructional

A. team

To be successful, a principal needs to support all of the following except...
A. Faculty
B. Parents
C. Students
D. Curriculum changes

D. Curriculum changes

Essay Question[edit]

The most important roles of the principal according to this reading were instructional leader and supporter. Do you agree? If yes, why do you agree? If no, why do you disagree and what do you feel are the most important roles of the principal?


  • Algozzine, Robert, Audette, Robert, Ellis, Edward (2000, Nov/Dec). Supporting teachers, principals, and students through Unified Discipline. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(2), 42-47. Retrieved September 22, 2006, from Wilson Web database.
  • Dryfoos. "The Role of the Principal." North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. 15 Apr. 2007
  • Interview with Lynne Lewis, teacher at First Colonial High School, Virginia Beach, Virginia, September 15, 2006.
  • Interview with Principal Dale Holt, First Colonial High School, Virginia Beach, Virginia, September 15, 2006.
  • Kaplan, Leslie S., Owings, William A., Nunnery, John (2005, June). Principal quality: A Virginia study connecting interstate school leaders licensure consortium standards with student achievement. NASSP Bulletin, 89, 28-44. Retrieved September 22, 2006, from Wilson Web database.
  • Maulding, Wanda, Joachim, Pat (2000). When quality really counts. Contemporary Education, 71(4), 16-18. Retrieved September 23, 2006, from Wilson Web database.
  • Wood, Ann L. (2005, Spring). The importance of principals: site administrators’ role in novice teacher induction. American Secondary Education, 33(2), 39-62. Retrieved September 22, 2006, from Wilson Web database.