The perky principal

Manaswini Sridhar

Two years ago I joined a school as a history teacher. I was fresh from college and the school was open to employing a teacher with ‘no experience’ and no B.Ed. I was thrilled at the prospect of teaching young minds. I looked forward to some handholding or words of wisdom from the principal, but these were not forthcoming. I evolved as a teacher by making mistakes and learning from them. My students guided me in the daily routine that I needed to follow. It astonishes me that there has not been much support from the principal who is supposedly there to spread a healthy school culture. What are the ways in which a principal can help a school, its staff, and students in the real sense of the term?

Many principals assume that their space is behind the desk, monitoring admissions and making sure that the teachers and the staff are paid on time and that the school gets the best results. No doubt, the principal is under tremendous pressure from parents, teachers, and students, and has to deal with a wide range of predicaments and problems. However, a school would run better and teachers would feel more appreciated if the person at the helm focused on other aspects, which would really not involve too much time.

Yes, principals are tense and overworked, but then so are the teachers and the administrative staff. Many principals take their jobs so seriously that they forget the existence of their students and make themselves totally unavailable to them under the pretext of meetings. Principals need to connect with their students by strolling along the corridor, greeting the children, making eye contact with them, and also making sure that the students reciprocate. Children emulate those whom they respect. The principal also needs to acknowledge any member of her staff with a smile and a greeting rather than a cursory nod or a frown. Children sense the (supposedly) indifferent attitude of the principal towards the teacher and from this stems the seemingly endless complaints against teachers, even the most skilled and dedicated of them. A proper acknowledgement will make the staff feel needed, and therefore will help them take pride in their work, spurring them to give their best to the educational institution.

Making rounds of the classrooms is a good way of connecting both with the students and the staff. Principals with their years of teaching experience will also be able to make valuable suggestions to the teacher and at the same time become aware of student-related issues. Regular visits by the principal will also have a positive impact on the students who constantly crave for attention in the positive sense of the term.

New teachers are appointed nearly every month since teachers are constantly leaving. Teachers hesitatingly step into a classroom with little or no introduction and are expected to take over from where the previous teacher left the students high and dry. The new teacher has to wade through a classroom of 45 or more students with absolutely no idea about the students and no idea about what is expected of her. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the principal or a senior member of the staff introduced the teacher to the students, making sure that the students understand they are in good hands? The principal could either sit through the class for 10 or 15 minutes or have a member of the staff sit through the class, all the while assuring the students that it is being done so that the teacher and the students are mutually comfortable with one another. However, at no point of time should the students be given the impression that the new member of staff is being monitored. It is the primary duty of the principal to make the staff feel supported and make them understand they can always knock on her door for any kind of assistance. The students will understand that the principal is interested in their education process and is not someone who just sits behind a desk wielding a powerful wand.

Most schools have fortnightly or monthly ‘meetings’ where the staff and the principal discuss subjects of importance or relevance. These meetings turn out to be a list (which revolves around the additional role that the teacher has to play that month/week) that is read out by either the principal or the vice principal and where most teachers assume the role of passive listeners. Such activities can very well be sent as crisp e-mails or be put up on the staff notice board. These meetings should rather focus on issues like behavioural issues in and outside of class or getting more familiar with a particular policy or practice of the school. The meeting should be a place where issues are sorted out and the teachers feel that there has been some personal interaction happening during which they get feedback from the more experienced teachers or the principal herself.

The principal must also understand that delegation helps in making her task easier and more pleasant. By doing this, she is also training teachers to take responsibility and make decisions. In many schools, the science and mathematics teachers are figures of authority; the librarian, the PT, and the language teachers on the other hand, are relegated to the background. It is vital that they not be sidelined for they also play a significant role in the school along with the support staff, who ensure the smooth running of the school.

When asked how they would like to be viewed by the principal, many teachers say, “We would like to be treated as human beings also, instead of just academic instructors.” There are schools where there is a reduction in the fee structure for the ward of a staff or where the bus fees are waived, but other than that, there is rarely any kind of bonding between the staff and the principal. The principal almost seems to feel that if she/he breaks the ice, she/he will no longer be in control. The tip of the iceberg warrants to be chipped so that the staff feels a sense of belonging. Without this feeling of belonging, it will not be possible for the principal to build a working relationship with her staff and neither will the staff and the principal match each other’s expectations. When these are not met, there is a disgruntled and reluctant staff and a touch-me-not principal.

The ways of the world have changed; bosses are called by their first names and greeted casually by the rest of the team so that there is a feeling of being on the same plane. Most principals however still like to remain in an ivory tower and are guarded by secretaries who perpetually keep shooing away parents, teachers, other staff and even students with the mantra: The Principal is busy. A principal should not be feared; a principal should be respected.

Last but not least, the principal has to be smartly attired, speak well, and have just the right combination of soft skills and command. Just as the students represent the school by scoring good grades and becoming a good citizen of society, the principal too is the hallmark of the school. An enthusiastic and cheerful principal will do wonders with children. After all, no one has thrust the role on the person; it has been accepted voluntarily and therefore it needs to be executed with a lot of grace.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.