ED Officials Get Schooled in School Leadership

For the third year in a row, NASSP, NAESP and New Leaders have collaborated with the US Department of Education (ED) to conduct shadowing visits of principals as part of our celebration of National Principals Month. This year, more than 50 principals across the nation opened up their schools to ED officials so they could “walk a day in their shoes.”

On October 30, principals from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia convened at ED headquarters for a debrief session where US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other officials shared their experiences. Duncan shadowed Principal Ambassador Fellow Rachel Skerritt who is the principal of Eastern Senior High School in Washington, DC. Nearly 100% of the students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, and the school is undergoing the transformation model under the School Improvement Grants program.

Duncan greeted students as they entered the building and helped Principal Skerritt take attendance and collect cell phones, which are not allowed in the classroom. He also sat in on a faculty huddle in the gym and got a glimpse into the principal’s ever-growing email inbox. Duncan even volunteered to call a parent when there was a challenge with a student.

ED officials also shared their “aha” moments, which included the loneliness of the job for elementary school principals who may be the only administrator in the building and the need for good mentoring programs. They were pleased to witness collaborative leadership in action and now better understand how the principal helps build a safe culture in schools.

Principals were asked what hurdles get in the way of maximizing their role as instructional leaders. A middle school principal from Maryland shared with a small group that he always conducts classroom visits and teacher observations in the morning because he never knows what may happen that day. While being shadowed by the ED official, a student who had been suspended was seen on campus and the principal spent a good part of the day tracking down his parents. Other principals lamented that they often hear teachers say they would never want their job, which makes them very concerned about succession planning and the future of their profession.

Duncan posed for a group photo with the principals and one middle school principal even got a selfie with the secretary, which she immediately tweeted to her students. Duncan thanked the principals for their hard work and ended the discussion with his oft-used quote, “I have yet to see a great school that didn’t have a great principal.” Those words are so true!

Check out the #prinmonth hashtag on Twitter to see photos of the shadowing visits or read the Department’s Storify of the week.

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