Op-Ed: We Need Better Principals

High school teacher Brittany Clark speaks up about the importance of strong leadership in education.
With the proper support, teachers have a better chance at succeeding in the classroom. (Photo: Getty Images)
Apr 3, 2013
is an 11th and 12th grade English teacher at Middle College High in Memphis, Tennessee.

Great leadership is at the helm of any successful endeavor. This is certainly true for education.

I pride myself on being a great classroom leader. My students know I run the ship and we've built a relationship of mutual respect, so they gladly follow my lead. They trust me to have their best interests in mind and to steer them in the right direction.

My students know I have extremely high expectations, but they aren't expected to simply rise to the occasion. I promise them that I'm there to ensure they are taught the skills needed to meet and eventually exceed those expectations. I may be the leader, but I am not successful unless those whom I lead are successful as well.

A school, just like a classroom, needs a strong leader.

In order for teachers to feel valued and grow in their work, we need administrators who hold us to high expectations, who respect the hard work we put in, and who support us with opportunities to grow and flourish in our craft. This does not come without trust and guidance, as teachers are truly lifelong students.

I feel lucky to have had great leaders throughout my career and I believe this is one of the key factors in my success as a teacher—and my decision to remain in the classroom.

Without great leadership it's very hard to stay at a school, even when everything else seems perfect. The impact of the leadership in a school building can honestly make or break the culture and climate. And often, poor leadership results in the best teachers looking for positions elsewhere.

As a teacher who's had great school leaders, I see how everyone from the teachers, students, staff, and parents are positively impacted. The single most important aspect of great leadership is a common goal and vision that is developed by all parties involved and mutually agreed upon so that everyone is on the same page.

I truly believe that more great teachers would remain in the profession is effective leadership was seen as just as important as effective teaching.

When everyone knows they are working toward the same outcome, the culture is unified. When teachers, students and parents all understand what is defined as effective instruction, there is no question about what is right and what is wrong for the students involved. When the administration seeks the input of teachers, parents, and students, all parties trust the decisions.

This is where high expectations come into play. Everyone involved understands that nothing but the best teaching and learning will occur within the school and everyone rises to that expectation.

Most importantly, effective leaders guide their teachers to become leaders. This guidance signals that the leader respects the teacher and believes the teacher is a successful practitioner.

One of the most important factors in my decision to remain in the classroom is the encouragement from my administration to become a teacher leader. A teacher leader is someone who finds leadership opportunities outside the school such as national fellowships, district level evaluation teams, presenting professional development and more.

There are also leadership responsibilities within our schools like mentoring new teachers, becoming a department chair, serving on site-based councils, and simply making data-driven choices about the instruction in our classrooms. All of these opportunities can help us to grow as educators and feel fulfilled in our careers.

As I stated to begin with, effective leadership is the key for success in any situation and education is no different. I truly believe that more great teachers would remain in the profession is effective leadership was seen as just as important as effective teaching.

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