Can a school be great without a great principal? Research indicates that the answer is no. The undeniable fact is that principals are the most influential figures in driving schools toward greatness, or not.
It is unlikely that anyone knows the percentage of schools having great principals. It is certainly not 100% and may be lower than 20%. And then of course, we have the question as to what constitutes great. Whatever the percentage, it is a safe bet to assert that all principals can improve their performance, even the great ones.
I’ve worked in a variety of evaluation systems during the 35 years that I served as a principal. Some systems were better than others. But all of them lacked one essential ingredient: feedback from staff, students and parents. My supervisors rarely, if ever, attended meetings that I conducted, observed interactions with my school community or reviewed my written communications. Unless parents or teachers complained to central administration, it was highly unlikely that a supervisor will learn about a principal’s faults.
One method for remedying this gap in knowledge between how the principal performs and the supervisor’s knowledge of that performance, is to employ a multi-source feedback instrument . The most common one employed by the business community is the 360 degree feedback survey. “Studies suggest that over one-third of U.S. companies use some type of multi-source feedback. Others claim that this estimate is closer to 90% of all Fortune 500 firms.” Wikipedia
INFORMATION ABOUT THE 360 DEGREE SURVEY
- Completed by principal and anonymously by school community members: staff, peers, supervisors, students, parents
- Can be used in conjunction with or replacement for principal evaluation system; or as a developmental tool
- Used to identify strengths and weaknesses of principal’s performance
- Feedback given on approximately 10 areas of responsibilities found to impact school achievement (school culture, group dynamics, communication, etc.)
ADVANTAGES OF USING THE 360 DEGREE SURVEY
- Addresses the fact that principals rarely get valid, specific feedback about performance on their key responsibilities
- Studies in the business world indicate improved employee performance after using
performance based assessments (J. Folkman)
- Able to use the results to set goals and create action plans to improve performance
- Demonstrates to all, a commitment to your own professional growth
The 360 degree survey is a relatively neutral tool. How the tool is implemented will determine its effectiveness. “360 data is only helpful to the extent that it gets acted upon and used. The majority of programs we see simply give the feedback and then it gets swiftly forgotten. No plan = no change in behavior.” Forbes
So it is critical that all involved understand that a plan will result from the data collected. The plan should be closely monitored leading to future surveys that will assess progress.
- Do not rush into using the survey. If you are at central administration, you may ask a few principals to volunteer
- If you are a principal, initially use it to do a self-assessment without involving others
- Review the literature on using the 360 degree feedback survey in both corporate and education settings. Modify the contents of the survey to meet your needs.
- Jointly develop a process that will increase the likelihood of its benefits and avoid anger and mistrust issues
Finally, and most importantly, I strongly urge that for at least the first two years, that the survey be used as a developmental, rather than as an evaluative tool. The goal is to improve, not find fault. In the ideal world each principal who uses this instrument would have an external coach who has served with distinction as principal. Short of that ideal, I could see principals in a district join together in a trusting, collaborative relationship to assist each other on those dimensions of the position needing improvement.
A multitude of approaches can be used to improve schools. But without a strong, effective principal supporting and pushing them, the odds of significant change are slim. For this to occur, the use of the 360 Degree Feedback Survey offers hope.
Note: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a copy of a 360 degree survey that I modified for use with principals.
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