Outstanding Principals Share Secrets for Leading Blue Ribbon schools

At the Blue Ribbon opening ceremony, Edit Khachatryan (with Teaching Fellow Linda Yaron) announces that she will be facilitating a discussion among Blue Ribbon teachers and principals later in the afternoon.

At the Blue Ribbon opening ceremony, Edit Khachatryan (with Teaching Fellow Linda Yaron) announces that she will be facilitating a discussion among Blue Ribbon teachers and principals later in the afternoon.

Last week, I had the honor of listening to some of the nation’s most dedicated teachers and leaders at the Blue Ribbon Schools Program Awards Ceremony. The Blue Ribbon Schools Program was the brainchild of the second Secretary of Education, Terrel H. Bell, in whose honor there is also a National Distinguished Principals Award.

The Washington Teacher Ambassador Fellows were invited to facilitate discussions among Blue Ribbon principals, teachers, and representatives around topics deeply important to school success.  We also led an insightful conversation with Terrel H. Bell Award winning principals about school leadership.  I asked the first question, “What’s your secret?”

“Focus on what’s best for kids,” all principals said in various ways.  “Tenacious child-centered decision making,” another offered.  Principals spoke about finding ways to bring on board competent team players, empowering them to make decisions, and supporting them with ongoing, targeted professional development. One principal said, “I surround myself with the best and the brightest and get out of their way.”  Another spoke about knowing the strengths and expertise of teachers and trusting them. These principals reminded me of my own principal back home and the type of dynamic leadership that is necessary in every public school.

My takeaway: Successful school leaders know they cannot lead by themselves. They employ a distributed leadership model in their schools where teachers hold meaningful decision-making roles with a shared-vision of high expectations.  They restructure schools and roles to meet student needs, always making “student achievement the priority.”  It looks different in each school, but across the country, high achieving schools have leaders that don’t need to be at the school for the school to run.

Edit Khachatryan is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social science teacher on loan from Clark Magnet High School, a 2006 Blue Ribbon Schools Award recipient, in Glendale, CA.

2 Comments

  1. Successful schools target specific areas for systemic improvements. It takes rolling up the sleeves with administrators and teachers taking a hard look at current practices and using research based strategies. I would not want to be a principal that “got out of the way”, but we need to know when to lead and when to take the supporter role. Teacher leadership is critical, and that can only happen with the support of the principal.

  2. “Focus on what’s best for the kids.” Seriously, it is that simple! Our faculty works together in planning lessons and meeting student needs, it’s never about our agenda. It’s all about making student learning challenging but fun. The secret of Blue Ribbon Schools through the lens of the principal is ‘surrounding yourself with the best and brightest’. For me (through the lens as a faculty member of one of these schools), it is having a principal that trusts my capacity to deliver creative project based lessons and ‘gets out of the way’. Except, of course, when he is supporting my decisions by finding ways to get me the ‘stuff’ I need to make these lessons shine :)

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