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Effective Leadership: The Urban District’s Missing Puzzle Piece

Puzzle Pieces #3 I am an avid reader of everything. In my spare time I regularly read educational blogs, articles, and news postings via the Internet. This morning I was searching the Internet for articles on teaching practices in urban schools, when I stumbled across a website for education reform.  I don’t know why, but when I see the words “education reform” they never sit well with me. Based on my experience with educational reform the focus of the reforms have always been on the teachers. When I lived in Louisiana I worked with the education advocacy group Stand for Children. I learned a lot about the politics behind education bills, nepotism, and financial corruption at the local level. None of this concerned me because I knew that these kind of things existed all organizations. The one thing that always irritated me was the constant brow beating of teachers.
While working with Stand for Children I had the opportunity, along with other educators, to meet with the president of the BESE board. During this meeting the BESE president said that in his perfect world he would have teacher’s ratings posted so that parents could see whether or not the teacher was rated as an effective teacher. After he shared his vision of his perfect world I chimed in and said, “If the teacher’s ratings are going to be posted the principal’s rating should be at the top because the principal is the the instructional leader.”
rows-of-desks I have never understood why school boards and district personnel always place the burden on the teacher when a teacher is only as effective as his/her leader.
I have worked in different urban schools and the only thing that set each school apart was the school’s leadership. During my last full year in a Louisiana school the principal and I were at odds because I felt like our instructional time was being wasted with a lot of programs and cute things that were not going to help our school get out of failing status. Along with the smoke and mirrors the instructional specialist and coaches that were supposed to support instruction were being used by the principal as her personal assistants. I can remember like it was yesterday when I told her that my name was not on any letterhead at the school and that the the school rises and falls on her leadership. At the end of the school year when we received our test scores the school did just that! It failed and it failed miserably!
In my 15 years of teaching I can’t say that I was fortunate enough to have a a whole lot of great principals. As I look back on my teaching career there might of been 3 principals that helped me grow personally and professionally. I can only say that there was 1 principal that I have worked for who was an example of a good leader. She was honest enough to tell me that I needed to come out of my comfort zone and humble enough to apologize in writing when she made a mistake. She was dedicated and believed in our professional judgement as teachers which made the world of difference because it created a positive school culture.
If urban school districts want true education reform then the reform should start at the stop and then trickle down. A teacher can only have an effect on one classroom but the principal sets the tone for the whole school.

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