Much has been written about the indispensable role of the principal as instructional leader. This reflects the view that a stellar principal is an instructional guru without whom teachers will wander in the pedagogical wilderness.

What is the unspoken but operative assumption underlying this conception? That teachers are incapable of competent teaching without guidance. Left to their own devices they will graze aimlessly about the pedagogical landscape, ignorant of what works and where instruction should be going.

The trouble with this assumption is that it is: 1. condescending and 2. flat wrong. Teachers generally know what they are doing. And they typically do best when they are devoid of outside interference. Should they not know what they’re doing, they’re not competent and should be fired.

Are teachers suspicious of the latest version of instructional methodology that the instructional leader is likely to be pushing? Sure they are. If they have any experience, they are well aware that the latest “reforms” and “improvements” come and go to little effect.

What, then, is the proper job of a school administrator if it isn’t instructional leadership?

  • To do their level best to make sure faculty have what they need. In some cases this is as simple as buying $20 box fans for excessively hot classrooms. In others it means playing the system to get supplies and other resources that teachers need.
  • To back faculty when they need and deserve it. They certainly don’t abandon them to half crazy parents who are trying to blame the teacher for the consequences of their own incompetence.
  • To take over classroom management troubles when faculty have exhausted their own remedies. They don’t just send a troublesome youngster, sent to the office for destroying instruction, back to the class room. They put a stop to that kid’s disruptions one way or another because disorder destroys learning; and learning is what school is all about. 
  • To run interference for faculty and cleverly sidetrack foolish local, state or federal policies that actually interfere with getting the instructional job done. If grandstanding government officials comes up with one or another crazy requirement, for instance, they find ways to “comply” yet minimize interference with instruction.
  • To be absolute death on bullying . Children in primary and secondary schools are compelled to be there, so they have an absolute, non-negotiable right to be safe while doing so.

These functions aren’t as glorious as being the instructional shepherd leading docile faculty sheep to green instructional pastures. But they are far more realistic in terms of what really needs to be done. Instructional “leaders” are in no position to take charge in the pedagogical way the present romantic manure recommends. Why? Because they can’t know what is going on in any classroom on a detailed basis. Moreover, they seldom command more knowledge of the students or subject matter than the teachers. As a matter of fact, a sizable number of them became administrators because they didn’t like classroom teaching all that well. Perhaps they weren’t even very good at it.

And lets not forget the most elemental fact of all. The only reason school administrators have a job is to help teachers do theirs. Far too often this is forgotten. It’s past time to trash the silly dream that school leaders can and should function as pedagogical messiahs. They should concentrate on the far more prosaic but absolutely essential mission of managing things in a manner that supports teachers while they’re doing their job. That’s plenty good enough.