Reflections from a Roundtable Discussion with the National Principal of the Year Finalists: Different Contexts, Similar Leadership

Every year the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) selects a national Principal of the Year. During this year’s selection process they brought their three finalists to Washington DC to connect with local legislators, policy makers, and officials in the United States Department of Education. These are reflections from a conversation with these three principal finalists led by some of the Department’s Teaching and Principal Ambassadors Fellows.

I had the wonderful opportunity a few Fridays ago to moderate a roundtable discussion with the three finalists for the National Secondary School Principal of the Year. As I heard their responses during the discussion, I couldn’t help but notice that while each of the three finalists came from vastly different contexts, there were common threads that ran among their responses.

The conversation around teacher development, for example, led all three candidates to discuss the importance of teachers and acknowledge that teachers are critical for high-functioning schools. I was particularly taken by a quote from Patty Fry, the principal of Plymouth South High School in Plymouth, Massachusetts, who said, “If we don’t have good principals, we can’t keep good teachers; if we don’t have good teachers, we have nothing.” This statement explains why leadership is critical to schools and the important role both principals and teachers play in student success.

The other thing that struck me during the conversation was the relentlessness demonstrated by each of these three individuals. On several occasions there was mention about not taking no for an answer and finding ways to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of what is best for kids. Principal Kyle Hoehner of Lexington High School in Lexington, Nebraska, explained, “If we are told we can’t do it, we still find a way … if it is best for kids you always find a way.”

Principal Alan Tenreiro of Cumberland High School in Cumberland, Rhode Island, who was ultimately selected as the NASSP National Principal of the Year, summed it up by saying, “We create a culture of trust, where teachers are not the objects of change, but the agents of change.” That is, a good principal doesn’t try to control how teachers teach; rather she empowers teachers to make the changes needed to meet the best interest of students.

This statement resonated the most with me because I realized that any of the finalists would identify, but so would a lot of principals across America. Principals everywhere are transforming life outcomes for our children and are committed to working hand in hand with teachers to be agents of change. It is truly a position where context matters, but at the heart, there are far more similarities you find among great leaders than differences.

Joseph Manko is the Principal of Liberty Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, and a Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

1 Comment

  1. I think that it is essential that lines of communication are opened up between parents and teachers, and between parents and other members of the education system. But parents do not necessarily want complicated, organised events that they need to take time out to attend. Sure, these events and volunteer opportunities are great but also parents need a quick and simple way to get engaged. Dialogue does not have to be complicated.

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