As a high school student with three years of Latin, I had always been captivated by the power of words. Two that I like–different by only two letters but with great implications for education–are aspire and inspire. Both share the Latin root “spiro-,” which translates as “breathe” or “breathe life into.” Strong school leaders strive to inspire their staff and students as they aspire to promote high effectiveness for staff and high achievement for students.
Talk with any teacher across the country and you find a universal need: leaders who breathe new life into their schools. In three recent meetings, ED’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows heard this same message many times.
We met with aspiring principals from Fairfax, Va., leaders, who asked us straight up: “What do teachers need from principals?” The Fellows shared many ideas but focused on our need for supportive principals who coach and develop us to the highest levels possible and who create positive collaborative cultures where we can thrive.
Later, when we discussed the future of the teaching profession with teachers from the District of Columbia, they added another word to the conversation about leadership: Respect. Lisa Jones of Watkins Elementary told us that support and respect of an effective principal are critical to keeping her motivated. In fact, when offered the hypothetical choice between a six-figure salary and a competent, effective school leader, she said, “It ain’t about the money; it’s about the leadership!”
The next day, I met with the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ National Distinguished Principals of 2011. Larry DiPalma of Ansonia, Ct. and Dawn Smith from Duncanville, Texas spoke passionately about the importance of being that “inspirational” leader, despite the shifting tides in education and the current obsessions of our testing culture.
What we heard from teachers and principals is that great leadership really matters. While it is true that every child deserves a great teacher, I am discovering that great principals aspire to ensure that our great teachers are inspired and equipped to stay.
Greg Mullenholz is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Montgomery County, Maryland.