The teaching and learning processes depend on principal, his/her initiative, participation in school life, and activity to a great extent. With regard to this, the Children Achieving program, which allows embodying systemic changes in school education system, was adopted in Philadelphia. It investigates the role and actions of a principal in providing all-round improvement of school and children’s success in studying. The reconstruction of the educational process is a rough task, which Philadelphia public schools and their principals, in particular, have encountered. These are principals who are supposed to put in operation and make their school meet new standards of education quality. This paper observes and analyzes changing of a principals’ role in school reform, the challenges this initiative imposes on them, and ways to avoid obstacles of the transition process.
School reform involves changes of school leader’s approaches and attitudes to teaching and learning processes. He/she should assume a new role of the instructional leader who controls every issue concerning school. Children Achieving program provides the principals with the significant responsibility for proper functioning of their institutions. Therefore, the first major change in the traditional role of principals relates to giving them more freedom in the organization of the educational process. On the one hand, it entails a large variety of decisions and choices while, on the other hand, such activity requires high level of initiative, and it can be often seen that people are too lazy to implement innovations.
Second, Children Achieving is a useful program but it seems to set uncertain tasks for school leaders, for example, to improve school score. It obliges principals to be multifunctional robots that able to do all administrative, managing, and instructional work simultaneously. As Spiri notices, the new principal is expected to perform in two ways. The first one is making “decisions regarding teaching and learning in their respective buildings,” and the second is “articulating decisions in each school with decisions in other schools” to provide the best program of educating. In other words, principal’s task is to give teachers certain freedom of choice when the methods are concerned and provide them with the opportunity to share these methods with their colleagues. It also involves principal’s participation in school life as well as closer cooperation between the schools of his/her cluster and supportive structures.
Third, the role of principals changes because they have to work under much stricter control. The results of principal’s performance are to be measured using Performance Index. The case studies show that many principals do not cope with realizing their role and the fact of how it can affect their performance. The absence of wise planning and sharing the tasks prevented them from building strategies as well as setting communication between the parts of school structure. With additional control that the program offers, the number of such instances will be reduced. However, the bureaucracy as well as anonymity, according to the program, are less developed than before; thus, in this case, a principal becomes more vulnerable while he/she performs his/her duties. In fact, this practice serves to force score improvement of the school. It also encourages the principals to implement and evaluate their decisions more carefully but also puts them under considerable pressure.
The first and the most significant challenge is working almost autonomously. As examples show, many principals do not know what to do at first. Besides, many of them claim about the lack of external support including tools, which can be necessary and helpful for teaching children. Bearing responsibility for the success of the school while having neither support nor sufficient resources is rather stressful. Moreover, very often, the expectations concerning fulfilling the tasks set for principals and reality do not coincide. However, they are alone to solve the issue and be accountable for the results.
The second challenge is the difficulty to allocate the available resources correctly. On the one hand, a principal sees a huge obstacle in the absence of means for presenting learning material. On the other hand, some people handle the issue and manage to succeed without technological support. A principal needs to balance between these extremes. The lack of resources greatly reflects on his/her work, teachers’ performance, and success of the students. Nevertheless, the availability of such support is not a guarantee of significant success. Everything in this situation depends on principal’s ability to use these instruments in a right manner. Every school has its own specifications, and adjusting to other schools is not an easy task; however, a principle should be able to do that.
Another barrier the principals have perceived relates to the old-fashioned attitude of the members of staff to the work. Building the new system of evaluating the results as well as education process becomes a challenge for teachers who have been working under old rules in every branch of education. They do not want to change and see no reason for it. Such teachers appear to stand against innovations, especially when their methods give positive effect. Thus, they do not want to try new systems and approaches and would rather follow the trodden path. A principal simply cannot fire such a teacher because hiring a new and competent one represents a tremendous challenge.
Finally, the pressure on the principals is challenging. One of the troubles most school leaders are concentrated on is receiving the highest Performance score. As the study shows, it is the reason why they feel “overwhelmed, frustrated, and angry”. Obviously, success depends significantly on how a principal perceives his/her role of an instructional leader and overcomes this barrier. However, much depends on teaching staff, means of teaching, external support, and other factors, which might be disregarded when principals work is to be assessed. Moreover, the Index requires making efforts in different activities. The principals often do not understand the aims set and the related pressure correctly. For them, having of a good performance rate and providing proper education are two diametrically opposed things that they are expected to join together.
In such situation, the alternatives to ensure the effective leadership and the overall success of this reform as well as the ways to ease the process for principals. First, it necessary to engage teaching staff in the process of meeting the standards and ease the transition period for everybody. The transactional theory by Charry suggests building learning communities at school and creating studying groups with teachers leading. This management approach is rooted in “system of rewards and punishments”. Thus, a principal plans activity judging from meeting or not meeting of teachers’ requirements. It allows building of the structure with elements of competition between teachers. In this case, the opportunity to find the right strategies and create well-formed structure with motivation to show the best results appears. According to this theory, successful teachers are rewarded until they fail, and, in the reverse case, they would be reprimanded or punished. A principal should conduct meetings every month and define children’s achievements through the estimation of teachers’ effectiveness. Fundamentally, a principal should comply with children’s wishes with the help of teachers’ support to provide the best conditions for making the highest score and teaching students in the most comprehensive way.
Second, the introduction of the system to evaluate teacher performance might be helpful. A principal should supports professional growth of every teacher through competition to spur them to seek for self-improvement and be more open to innovations. A school leader should encourage them to achieve permanent development for avoiding old-fashioned methods of teaching and create the unique courses within the cluster. It should entail the attendance of advanced training classes where teachers can join to the comprehensive exploring of the new educational approaches and additional courses giving the knowledge of using new programs and other instruments for studying improvement. In this case, a principal can apply to respective supportive institutions and propose them to invest money into the realization of successful perspectives. This method is also helpful in solving the hiring-firing problems and saving competent professionals.
Finally, following the transactional theory can allow principals to rationally manage the means for studying with the help of reward-punishment method. Thus, a school leader can provide additional resources to those who demonstrate successful performance and can use them effectively. Otherwise, a teacher will have to improve his/her work with the help of the limited tools. Such approach increases the effectiveness of teaching and helps to avoid the problem of uselessness of the technical and other means as it was described in the study.
To conclude, public school reform in Philadelphia aims at the increasing of students achievement. This program has given the principals freedom to change the educational process. This process can be exhausting for principals because it is connected with inability or unwillingness to find new ways of professional performance, the lack of resources and organizational support. Nevertheless, principals initiatives have to be encouraged because school improvement reform is effective when the leaders choose right ways to manage schools. The success of such programs as Children Achieving grounds on the cooperation. The transactional theory would be helpful in building firm principal-teacher-children relations. Its adoption might result in the scrutinized planning of the strategy of working with the staff and ability to manage the resources effectively. It can guarantee the overall success of the school and high Performance Index.