What Makes a Master Principal?

I recently wrote my thoughts on what make a “master teacher”.  Little is said though about what makes a “master principal”.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, I thought I would share an article that I use to guide my practice as a principal.  The qualities listed in this article by Cindi Rigsbee , hang above my office and I try to embody them each day.  Here are the qualities that are listed:

1.  The school is a family.

2. Teachers are treated as professionals.

3.  Instruction in the school is data-driven.

4.  They are student centered.

5. They reach out to families.

6. They have great reservoirs of energy.

7.  They promote school spirit and teamwork.

8.  They develop leaders.

9.  They have good help.

I think that the one quality is missing from this list is the following; they are passionate about what they do.  Without a passion for kids and your “job”, I am not sure how a principal can be truly effective.

I work continuously everyday to strive to meet the qualities above and convey my passion for the job to others.  Are these the same qualities that you expect from your administrators?

Please read the article for more information on each quality.

What Makes a Master Teacher


What makes a master teacherThe term “master teacher” seems to get thrown around a lot, but is something that many educators aspire to be. In my ten years in the field of education, I would say that the definition of “master teacher” has definitely changed. When I think of a master teacher, here are the qualities that I would suggest they have:

1. Connects with kids first -For all students to excel, teachers must learn about them and connect with each child.  This is not just about finding out how they learn, but it is finding out who they are.  It is essential that we get to know our students, learn their passions, and help them find out how we can engage them in their own learning.  If you are not able to do this as a teacher, the following characteristics will be moot,

2. Teaches kids first and curriculum second – Teachers must ensure that they differentiate learning and work to meet the needs of each student and understand how they each learn.  I believe that students have different learning styles and if we can best figure out how to help them meet their own needs, students will excel in the subject areas we teach.

3. Ensures that they draw relevance to curriculum – The question, “What does this have to do with real life?”, is something that I would prefer never be said in a classroom.  Not because it is not a legitimate question, but because teachers should show the relevance before there is an opportunity for it to be asked.  As we are obligated to teach curriculum objectives outlined by our government officials, this is something that must be done.  It is not always an easy part of the job but it is something we much continuously strive to do.

Not only is it essential that we draw relevance to the subject matter of what we teach, but it is also essential that we use mediums that are relevant to how students learn.  Disconnecting from devices that WE use as adults and kids use all the time the minute students walk into school is wrong.  A master teachers knows that it is essential  to use technology in the classroom to enhance learning in a way that is relevant to students.

4. Works with students to develop a love of learning – We are obligated to teach curriculum objectives but we are also obligated in our profession to help students find their own spark in learning.  Why do I write this blog?  It is my way of connecting with others and reflecting on my own learning.  It is a way that I choose to share and learn with others.  There is no pay or compensation that I receive from this.  A master teacher will try to tap into those ways that students love to learn and build upon that.  Creating that spark in each student will lead them to continued success and growth.

5. Embodies lifelong learning – A master teacher knows that they will never become the “perfect” teacher since that is unattainable.  They will look at ways that they can grow along with students and develop their own skills.  Education and learning will always change and a master teacher knows that they need to change with it.  I have seen teachers that have proclaimed that they are master teachers but have not changed their practice in years.  Growth is essential as a teacher.  Society changes continuously and so do its needs.  We need thinkers in our workplace and teachers must show that they are on the leading edge of this.

6. Focuses on learning goals as opposed to performance goals – Reading “Drive” by Dan Pink, he talks about the difference between performance and learning goals.  A performance goal would be similar to having students wanting to receive an “A” in french where a learning goal would be a student wanting to become fluent in the language.  Many students are smart enough that they know how to meet the objectives of a rubric and still not grow much in their learning.  A master teacher sets the goals based on learning not on receiving a grade.  This type of assessment is not about understanding what a students knows and reporting on it, but it is a tool used for learning.

7.  Ensures that “character education” is an essential part of learning – Character education is just as relevant, if not more so, than any learning objectives set out in a curriculum.  We live in a world where collaboration is vital to success and working with others is an important skill.  Working with students to teach the fundamentals of respecting others and being able to listen and learn from others is vital.  Students can have the smartest understanding of objectives but not have the ability to share these ideas with others in a respectful way or take the time to listen to other ideas.  A master teacher ensures that students not only grow mentally in class, but also emotionally.

8.  Passionate about the content they teach – If a teacher works in the area of math and LOVES the subject area, that passion will spill over to the students he/she works with.  As an administrator, I work hard to help teachers work in subject areas that they are passionate about because I believe that enthusiasm is infectious. A master teacher shares their passion and enthusiasm with those they work with.  However, if you are a teacher in an area that you do not “love”, it is important that you find ways to spark that passion for yourself.

(UPDATE: Reading through the comments I feel that I had to add a couple of characteristics to my list.)

9.  A master teacher is a “school teacher” – I often talk with people about the difference between a classroom teacher versus a “school teacher”.  It is essential that a master teacher does not only impact the learning environments of the class that they work with, but that they also have an impact on the school culture.  This can happen in sharing their passion through extracurricular activities or their knowledge on strong teaching strategies with school colleagues.  It is important that teachers do not just build connections with students that they teach now, but with students they had in the past or may have in the future.  It is great to see teachers that connect with kids that they do not teach at the time leading to enthusiasm for that student to one day be in that very same teacher’s class.

10. Strong communication skills – Obviously it is important that teachers are able to communicate with the students they teach, but what about their colleagues and parents?  Sharing knowledge, back and forth with colleagues is essential to the growth of the individual as well as the collective.  It is important that these skills are continuously developed.  It is also imperative that you are able to effectively communicate with parents as they have great insights on how their child learns best.  I have learned more and more as an educator the valuable learning that can come from communicating with parents and how important they are to the development of the school and class culture.  A master teacher will effectively draw upon this knowledge.

These are the characteristics that I believe make a master teacher.  I definitely know that as an administrator these are ideals as a teacher leader that I work towards everyday and want to embody.  The one thing that I do know is that my learning is nowhere near complete and I can still grow.  Learning from you, what areas do you think I missed on this list?  I would love to hear your thoughts as I continue to grow.

Building Upon Strengths

I am a HUGE believer in trying not to mold kids/people into what we expect them to be, but finding their passion and strengths and building upon that.  As a firm believer in this AND a huge dog lover (I have two of my own),  I really enjoyed the video below.  It shows me that with ANYONE  (or anything) if you find their strengths, they can do amazing things!

Note to Principals

Recently I came across a video address by Arne Duncan, United States Secretary of Education, talking to principals at a conference in Houston.  This address was definitely for principals and to motivate them at their conference, so it is biased in the viewpoint it presents.  Definitely there are some comments that I totally agree with that were made by Mr. Duncan, and some that I would say need modification.

“Education has the power to transform lives.”

This is something that is so true and it is imperative that government leaders not only recognize this, but fund schools to ensure that students are getting opportunities to further their learning and equip them to best serve the needs of students.  Great teachers need to be supported in their practice and that also includes in the funding that is received in schools.  Creating learning environments that are conducive to strong student learning will help students find their passion and reach their greatest potential.  The more opportunities we afford to our students, the more likely they will enjoy  success.

“Effective leadership is critical in all of our schools.”

Although I totally agree with this statement, I am assuming that the definition of “leadership” that Mr. Duncan and I use are different.  Leadership can be anyone in a school building if you are able to tap into their energy and passion for different areas in our learning environment.  This is so important to realize as a principal.  Principals always have good help and cannot do anything without being surrounded by amazing people.  My success is directly attributed to the talents and passion of those that I am fortunate to work with.  My job is to open up doors for them and give them opportunities to lead.  This type of “leadership” is definitely critical in schools as it transfers quickly to the students.  They are the future leaders and they must work in an environment that does not only “prepare them for real life, but is real life.” (Watch the excellent video by Chris Lehmann)

“Principals are always the catalysts for change in schools.”

Principals are not always the “catalyst” for change, but they sure  have the ability to drive innovation.  They also have the opportunity to crush it.  I want to make sure that as a principal, I let the incredible people around me stretch themselves and take risks in what they are doing.  We have to appreciate the amazing things we do now, but also need to continuously model lifelong learning to our students and see how much we can further our own practice.

If you are a principal or not, the Arne Duncan address is definitely worth watching.  I agree with him that we need strong principals in schools.  This is important to ensure that we are getting the best out of the teams of people we have the pleasure  of working with.

Keep Learning Fun

There are so many days that I do not feel my job is a job at all.  It is something that I love to do and I am inspired by the kids and staff that I work with.  Everyday is filled with laughs and smiles and I could not ask for more.  Keeping work fun and having a sense of humour are crucial to making a great learning environment and the following video proves that.  Enjoy!