The Principal, Always a Teacher
A Call for Leaders for 21st Century Schools
Ours is an era that requires new forms and functions for schools, as our nation and world come to grips with the promise and the pitfalls of a global economy and a world linked by pathways to knowledge unheard of a few decades ago. Such schools require a new type of leader-one who remains a teacher at heart-yet grows to become a leader of leaders, even as our notion of "teacher" and "learner" continue to evolve.
"Our schools are not failing. Rather, they are obsolete," argues Tony Wagner.1 For our part, dedicated teachers, committed parents, inspired school leaders and diligent students are as necessary as ever, but the structures in which they work as educational partners must be not only be changed, but re-envisioned. We cannot hope to re-create our schools as "learning communities"2 if we fail to develop leaders at every level of public education who can visualize and champion a dynamic re-inventive process.
Our generation has seen the educational goalpost move from "improving education," to "the pursuit of high standards," to "educational reform," to "school restructuring" and "school change," until, as the first decade of a new millennium reaches an end, to a call for the "transformation" of the school itself.3 This evolution in goals ought to represent far more than the replacement of one slogan or buzz-word by another. We believe that enlightened educators and citizens have had it with "fad-of-the-moment" approaches to change, with jargon-heavy solutions that spawn self-congratulatory publications, or with proprietary schemes that promise much but leave the basic structure of the classroom and the culture of the schoolhouse virtually unchanged.4
Our children and youth are emerging into a society of networks, a world that is inter-connected and often scarily interdependent, a planet whose very survival will have to rely on the collective intelligence and creative power of today's young people. These vital learners deserve the best we can provide-not just in staff, facilities, technology, and academic programs-but even more crucially, in opportunities to grow as self-motivated, questioning, skillful producers and transformers of knowledge. We must find and develop those school leaders who will help this, our most challenging prospect, to evolve.
1 Wagner, Tony. The Global Achievement Gap. (2008), Basic Books. p. xxi.
2 See "Moving from High Schools to Learning Communities," 2007 NH Department of Education.
3 See "Secondary School Transformation: 21st Century Vermont High School," 2008 VT Department of Education.
4 Fried, Robert. The Game of School (2005), Jossey-Bass.