School principals have perhaps never faced more challenges within the public education than they do today. Increased violence in schools has created a situation where providing security for students takes precedence to learning. Drug use among students and domestic violence place teachers and administration in a social services role, rather than focused on education. Increased accountability standards with an ever-shrinking budget challenges teacher’s time to be responsive to individual student needs. Each of these challenges are faced by the school as a whole, with increased pressure placed on the role of the principal to meet these needs.
The role of the principal has changed over the past twenty to thirty years. Ideally the principal should be responsible for creating a climate of learning, and assuring that teachers have the resources they need to do their job effectively. In the process of this role, the school principal must be an effective leader, and an effective mediator, dealing with conflict between teachers, parents, and students. Conflict management and conflict resolution are taking a priority in the day to day management of the school principal.
The tasks of management and leadership are basic components of administration. Principals are assigned the responsibility of making certain that necessary tasks are completed by teachers and other staff members, and accountable for the school’s resources in completing those tasks. “Principals coordinate, direct, and support the work of others by defining objectives, evaluating performance, providing resources, building a positive climate, fostering positive school-community relations, planning, scheduling, keeping records, resolving conflicts, handling student problems, working cooperatively with central office staff members, and keeping the school running smoothly on a day-to-day basis.” (Sybouts & Wendel, 1994, 19)
The role of the principal in completing each of these tasks is further complicated by those factors that occur outside of their control. (Sybouts & Wendel, 1994, 19) Managing conflict for the school principal is a difficult task as they are responsible for fulfilling a variety of roles, some of those even in conflict with each other.
“The principal establishes a climate for excellence, puts forth a vision for continuousimprovement in student performance, promotes excellence in teaching, and commits to sustained, comprehensive professional development for all staff members. The principal ensures that curriculum, instructional strategies, and assessment of student progress are coherent components in the teaching and learning process. In short, the principal engages herself or himself as an instructional leader.” (Tirozzi, 1, 2001)
As an instructional leader, the role of the principal is focusing more on empowering teachers in recent years. This directional shift, empowering teachers, is occurring as a method of increasing teacher effectiveness. “When teachers are more effective, student achievement, responsiveness to student conflict, teacher satisfaction, and the school environment improves.
Productivity increases as schools are expected to do more with less.” (Short & Johnson, 1994, 1) In order to effectively empower teachers, principals must be effective leaders, providing effective conflict resolution. The need for effective conflict resolution within the school setting is increasing as people compete for resources, time, and work towards conflicting goals.
Conflict in any organization can be managed by a variety of techniques or styles. Conflict management that moves an organization forward, generating new ideas, and increasing productivity can be described as functional conflict management. Conflict management that has the result of reduced communication and decreased problem solving can be described as dysfunctional conflict management. The role of principal is further challenged by the power struggle that may ensue between varying interested parties within the school system.
This creates for the principal the need to use legitimate power to influence and empower others, so that teachers may work in an environment that satisfies them and therefore reduces conflict. (Short & Johnson, 1994, 1) Conflict is inherent in a school structure and if managed effectively does not need to have a negative impact. If conflict is dealt with in the early stages, it can lead to a better understanding of opposing viewpoints.
As schools face further financial challenges and teachers are continued to be expected to do more with less, these conflicts are likely to increase. Allowing or empowering the teachers to be a part of the solution from the beginning will reduce further, more serious conflicts down the line. “Furthermore, conflicts often are symptoms, not causes, of organizational problems. If a school system is fraught with teacher strikes, tensions between teachers and parents, or fights among students, this is symptomatic of broader and deeper organizational problems that must be dealt with systemically if they are to be dealt with effectively.” (Kirtman & Minkoff, 1994, 1)
According to Kirtman & Minkoff, in order to effectively manage conflicts in the school setting, it is necessary to understand the interrelationships in the school system and how behavior at one level of the school hierarchy, or between levels, ripples throughout the entire system. Therefore it is necessary to consider conflict systemically in order to understand the basis of the conflict and therefore arrive at a solution. Kirtman & Minkoff propose a seven-step process to analyze and act on conflict as it occurs within the school system:
· Consider how the school’s vision or mission is impacted by the conflict and identify what steps need to be taken to realign them.
· Identify the formal and informal leadership structures and how they are impacted by the conflict.
· Identify the key participants and their roles in the conflict
· Develop a strategy to modify current policies or procedures to bring them in line with the overall vision or mission
· Determine how the history of the organization is having an impact
· Create an implementation plan
· Monitor progress and modify as needed (Kirtman & Minkoff, 1994, 1) There is a need for principals to assume this role and do so proactively so that they have the opportunity and time to fulfill their additional responsibilities. According to Elaine Fink and Lauren Resnick, there is widespread appeal for principals to assume the role of leaders in education, but this role is not being fulfilled in practice. “In practice, though, few principals act as genuine instructional leaders. Their days are filled with the activities of management: scheduling, reporting, handling relations with parents and the community, and dealing with the multiple crises and special situations that are inevitable in schools.
Most principals spend relatively little time in classrooms and even less time analyzing instruction with teachers. They may arrange time for teachers’ meetings and professional development, but they rarely provide intellectual leadership for growth in teaching skill.” (Fink & Resnick, 1, 2001) Fink and Resnick depict principals as becoming more and more distanced from the issues of education and instruction and increasingly focused on administrative and budgetary issues. According to Fink, building an effective community of principals should focus on the craft of teaching and learning and the building of strong interpersonal relationships.
The role of principal maintains five major controls or sources of power or authority including the authority (1) to exert administrative control, (2) to exert aggressive instructional leadership, (3) to control the evaluative framework of the school, (4) to control the distribution of rewards, and (5) to control the timing and flow of information and resources in the school. (Webster, 44, 1994) The effective principal has the ability to define what tasks are important and create a framework in which those tasks can be accomplished.
The effective principal should focus on the role of “principal teacher,” or that which is the teacher of teachers. Effective principals, who have the responsibility of teaching both new and experienced teachers, must be knowledgeable about a wide variety of teaching strategies, with a focus on that which will enhance learner growth. Effective principals must possess problem solving as a skill. The effective principal should operate as a leader. (Webster, 93, 1994)
Leadership is often defined as the ability to influence others in the group, focused on the two basic functions of leadership: task and human. Task effectiveness relates to teaching as the major task and learner growth as the outcome. The second function of human effectiveness recognizes that teachers and other staff members need occasional strengthening, refocusing, morale boosting, and listening to, as well as remediation and correction. According to Webster, task effectiveness and human effectiveness roles of leaders overlap, across all domains.
Principals must display task effectiveness in the learning or learner-centered domain as well as in the management domain. (Webster, 46, 1994) Portin and Shen studied the changing role of the principal in the Washington State education system. They identified the school effectiveness research of the last twenty years in affirming the role of principal leadership in school success.
Principals were identified as key individuals as instructional leaders, initiators of change, school managers, personnel administrators, and problem solvers. The principal is in the center of multiple demands to
reform schools and to meet the challenges of future leadership. (Portin & Shen, 1, 1998) “If education, in general, and schools, in particular, are seen as tools for social change, educational leaders are assumed to be among the most ritical artisans. This assumption is widely held by the public-at-large, as well as by education professionals. It is also an assumption warranted by relevant evidence. Indeed, the “leadership effect” becomes increasingly prominent the more one focuses attention on schools as opposed to other types of organizations.”
(Portin & Shen, 1, 1998) Despite changes in shared leadership and teacher empowerment, the principal remains the center of leadership in the school. The unique role of the principal includes instructional, organizational, and statutory leadership. As an instructional leader, the principal is expected to retain knowledge of effective instructional practice, both curricular and pedagogical. The role of the principal as evaluator of instruction underlines the organizational leadership expected.
Principals are given responsibility for most school operations. Despite changes in school policy, and societal changes, the assumption is made that principals have the capacity to lead and supervise the implementation of new programs and regulations while continuing to provide previously assigned responsibilities. Research indicates that this ever-changing role of the principal may not allow for them to meet of the expectations. “Numerous factors have been identified that contribute to the ways in which principals spend their time.
Analyses of the principals’ role reveal constant interruptions, lack of planning time, fragmentation of activities, compliance with numerous rules and regulations. Clearly, the role of the principal is changing as more is expected of them.” (Portin & Shen, 1, 1998) In a study of schools in Washington State, more than three quarters of principals surveyed, reported that in the last five years they have had more responsibility for site-based decisions, monitoring truancy, dealing with the impact of student diversity, interacting with parents, improving school-community relationships, and administering special education programs.
These changes suggest that principals are expected to provide more leadership, on one hand, and to take on more managerial responsibilities, on the other. This has led to a growing tension between the leadership and managerial responsibilities of the job. The role of principal is becoming increasingly more challenging. Ninety-one percent of the principals surveyed indicated they are in districts that are decentralizing decision making to the local school site, 76 percent were in districts that were initiating or encouraging the use of site councils, 79 percent indicated the need to establish school/business partnerships.
Seventy-six percent reported working in sites with increased student diversity that has had an important impact on the school, 83 percent increased interactions with parents that have had a significant impact on their work, 91 percent reported it was important to consider “client satisfaction” when making decisions. As might be expected, these changes have had negative impact on the ability of principal’s to do their work and increased negative feelings about their job. (Portin & Shen, 1, 1998)
Despite the addition of new responsibilities, principals have not been relieved of other duties and responsibilities that have traditionally been a part of their job, “building maintenance and repair, instructional leadership, maintaining a safe and secure environment, responding to teacher and staff requests, conducting legally required teacher evaluations, managing the budget, and maintaining discipline.” (Portin & Shen, 1, 1998) Despite these additional responsibilities, authority and instruction did not necessarily follow, resulting in considerable ambiguity.
Some principals surveyed reported not feeling they possessed the skills necessary for the increased job responsibility. Further, principals surveyed reported feeling greater levels of frustration in their job and less enthusiasm for the work they do. Their decline in morale and enthusiasm stems, instea, from their inability to carry out both their management and leadership functions effectively and efficiently, and their preference to provide leadership. Many principals report work weeks of 50 to 70 hours.
They feel they are being forced to make choices about where they will spend their time and attention. Another source of frustration is the shift to managerial rather than leadership responsibilities. They recognize that managing the building is a necessary function for principals, they prefer to focus on their role as instructional leaders, spending time with teachers, students, and parents improving the schools’ program for student learning. Many principals are finding it difficult to maintain that focus. (Portin & Shen, 1998)
Due to systemic issue of conflict within the school system, a principal needs to be prepared to utilize his or her resources wisely. The background of a principal is typically education based, just as that of a teacher, therefore in an administrative role, they may not be adequately prepared to deal with all types of conflict. Dealing with parents can be a challenge for teachers and principals alike, but ultimately the responsibility will rest with the principal.
Utilizing the school counselor can be beneficial in dealing with conflicts with parents and students alike. (Shoftner & Williamson, 2000, 1) Principals must establish a positive relationship with parents and understand that parents are their customers.
As in any conflict situation, principals must understand what factors may escalate conflict, and have an understanding of how conflict is perceived, particularly by parents. Most conflicts follow a similar pattern. Conflict occurs when people interact and perceive incompatible differences or threats to their resources, needs, or values. Conflict is the human response as a result of this interaction. How this conflict is dealt with can determine if thisconflict will escalate or deescalate. Typically, “conflicts involve a series of actions and reactions, moves and countermoves, communication strategies, perceptions, and interpretations of messages that directly affect substantial outcomes.” (Billingsley & Lake, 2000, 1)
With successful intervention, any conflict situation can be turned into a positive situation. Conflicts with parents often arise because a parent feels that their child’s needs aren’t being met, there is a lack of communication with the school, parents feel they are being judged by the school, or a lack of trust has developed based on past issues and concerns.
Principals must understand the dynamic that occurs when a parent feels that their child’s needs aren’t being met. Parents need to feel that they are being listened to and that the school system is willing to serve “their” child and do so not only adequately, but positively. Principals must ensure that there is an open line of communication between parents and the school and that the school is willing to hear their concerns. In order to diffuse a conflict situation with a parent, the principal must be willing to go through the process and determine why the conflict exists, who the players are, and what modifications must occur in order to bring everyone back to the original vision, educating all children.
“Power struggles can be decreased if educators focus on relationships. Educators who develop strong, reciprocal relationships with children and parents and who use good communication skills provide a foundation for satisfying and productive relationships. In these relationships, parents feel valued and respected, and conflicts are more easily addressed. Maintaining conciliatory attitudes in conjunction with being able to apply sound problem-solving skills can build confidence that problems can be solved.
However, good intentions are often not enough. Both parents and school officials need good communication, problem-solving, and negotiation skills.” (Billingsley & Lake, 2000, 1) There is a natural imbalance of power that occurs between parents and schools. Parents tend to question their ability to advocate for their children, lacking proper knowledge in the categories of organizational knowledge, judgmental knowledge, legal knowledge, and conflict management knowledge. Parents report that they rarely understand specifically what services their child is receiving at times and if that is appropriate, as they lack the specific knowledge.
Parents often feel overpowered by school systems, and need to feel as though they are a valued part of the team. (Billingsley & Lake, 2000, 1) Historically, principals have been considered part of the control process within the school. Their job was to distribute incentives for completion by teachers and other staff members.
Transformational leadership, that is desired now, works by transforming the goals and aspirations of members of the organization. “Transformational school leaders pursue three goals: to help staff members develop and maintain a collaborative, professional culture, to foster teacher development; and to help personnel solve problems together more effectively.”
(Webster, 192, 1994) This type of leader realizes that an integrated, cohesive group lends itself to effectiveness. Everyone works together to pursue common goals. A sense of ownership exists within an organization where transformational leadership is practiced. (Wendell, 212, 1994) In providing effective leadership, principals must be able to provide leadership that results in a shared vision of the directions to be pursued by the school and to manage change in ways that ensure that the school is successful in realizing the vision.
“There is overwhelming evidence from the literature on school effectiveness and improvement regarding the significance of the principal in establishing a school culture that promotes and values learning and that embodies realistic but high expectations of all students and teachers. To the extent that principals have an impact on student learning, this impact is largely mediated through teachers and classroom teaching.” (Codding & Tucker, 61, 2002) As a manager, the principal must ensure
that the circle of accountability is complete and that investment in the learning of individual members is demonstrated in the student learning outcomes. This needs to be reflected in the staff appraisal process and ongoing processes for evaluating programs and monitoring the performance of the school.
“A key role of the principal is to ensure that each of the elements that contribute to improved student learning outcomes is present, working effectively, and aligned with all other elements. When systems aren’t aligned and progress is not noted, it is the role of the principal to make adjustments in the system and make sure those adjustments are communicated throughout the school system.
Principals need a strong theoretical foundation of current knowledge about teaching and learning, practical knowledge of the beliefs and understandings of staff in the school, and applied knowledge of how to bring about development
and change in those beliefs and understandings.” (Codding & Tucker, 64, 2002)
Schools with effective learning climates have behavioral standards understood by all students, with consequences for inappropriate behavior administered consistently and fairly, on the basis of a written standard known to all staff members. An effective learning climate in schools should be a major component of the principals’ vision which serves as the basis for improvement.
Principals must understand the meaning as well as ways of improving effective learning climates. A climate that promotes learning includes all the things principals must do to foster teacher and student involvement.
According to Webster, the climates of effective schools are characterized by (1) high levels of student involvement with work; (2) teacher-led instruction; (3) students who understand teacher expectations; (4) efficient use of time; (5) minimal confusion and disruption; (6) mutual trust between teachers, students, and administrators; (7) high morale; (8) ample opportunities for input by all factions; (9) feelings of “ownership” by all; (10) feelings of caring by all; and (11) the presence of one or more ongoing renewal or school improvement projects. (Webster, 182, 1994)
Through their leadershipabilities, the school principal can have an impact on teacher attitude, student achievement, staff and student morale. According to Webster, the first step that a principal can take toward establishing an effective learning climate in any school is being there, being seen by all, students, teachers, and other staff members. Principals need to maintain personal involvement in the school setting.
Students and teachers alike, must have the feeling that the principal is likely to be anywhere and at anytime. Projection of a caring attitude should accompany the high visibility of the principal. Further, Webster provides the following suggestions as a method to improve principal interactions:
(1) establish a climate of professionalism with teachers;
(2) interact personally with children;
(3) get into classrooms;
(4) be a teacher advocate, hospitable and sensitive to teacher suggestions;
(5) attempt to fund projects of creative, caring teachers;
(6) delegate authority wisely;
(7) be politicians in dealing with their school communities;
(8) offer criticism in a constructive manner; and
(9) be human, while handling unpleasant tasks with fairness, firmness, and
dispatch. (Webster, 141, 1998)
Webster believes that principals should attempt to establish these elements by focusing
on teachers first, then students, and finally, student-teacher relationships in their schools.
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