The Principal’s Greatest Asset: Public Trust

Good news, principals. It might not always feel like it, but you actually enjoy quite a bit of trust from the American public. A recent report from the Pew Research Center, in fact, identified principals as the most trusted leaders in our country’s most prominent institutions—more than elected officials, religious leaders, military leaders, tech leaders, journalists, and police.

In brief, large percentages of the survey’s 10,618 respondents reported confidence that K–12 public school principals care about others or “people like me” (84 percent), provide fair and accurate information to the public (79 percent), and handle resources responsibly (81 percent). At the same time, only 32 percent of respondents believe principals fail to admit mistakes and take responsibility for them—a category in which Members of Congress are virtually uncontested (79 percent).

Public school principals know well the mandate to serve the public interest, that they are accountable to the public not just for “results,” but for transparent practice and the appropriate and effective use of public funds. It is gratifying that the American public recognizes that principals continue to honor that commitment. We at NASSP find it gratifying as well. Part of our work is to amplify your voice. We connect regularly with news outlets and trade education media to demystify the principal’s work and highlight your education authority to the American public. We position you as knowledgeable in curriculum, discipline, public health, and every other dimension that contributes to student success. After countless media interviews that display a principal’s wisdom, we’re delighted—and not a bit surprised—to see just how high you register in public trust.

That trust is not just a well-earned reward. It is an asset. It is perhaps your greatest asset. Public trust provides you a platform of credibility that inclines your stakeholders to listen when you say what your school needs to succeed—or what success even looks like. Emboldened by the confidence of the American public, use your voice to advocate for what matters. Remind all who hear you that school safety is much more a function of people than products. Tell them that those kids aren’t a category—they are all our kids. Make the case for a new model of education that empowers students to be disruptors rather than rewarding them for compliance. And don’t be shy about asserting how much of that progress relies on effective leadership.

Congratulations on your success! I hope you make the most of it.

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