Why the Whole School Matters

Traditionally, public schools have been viewed as an isolated assortment of students, teachers, and classrooms. A compounding body of research, unsurprisingly, has linked student outcomes with teachers. In other words, teachers matter. Recently, some additional research from Eric Hanushek has demonstrated . . . wait for it . . . that principals also matter. In a commentary on these findings, Karin Chenoweth on the Huffington Post pointed out a common fallacy in the way we view public education:

One of the comments during Hanushek’s session was from an economist who said that, generally speaking, his field always assumes that managers are interchangeable. Maybe it is time to see that those who manage — that is, lead — schools are far from interchangeable. In fact, they are pivotal to our schools functioning as networks of opportunity for all children, and it is worth spending some time figuring out what they do that others can emulate.

Managers as interchangeable? Hmmm. Don’t we also believe that about teachers as well?

Such ridiculously disassociated views of public education should not need research to disprove. If we recognize that schools are complex, interdependent ecosystems and dynamic communities, it is absolutely no surprise that teachers matter, nor more fundamentally, that principals matter. Let’s just keep on rolling with that train of thought and take it to its logical zenith: the whole school matters. The context and the culture of a school, in addition to the content (curriculum) that is delivered, determines how well a student is nurtured.

Any teacher working within a school setting knows just how important strong school leadership is to every child and every adult within that school community. That the onus for lack of student performance has been largely placed on the backs of teachers, while ignoring the critical importance of principals is crime enough; the real crime is that the answer to raising student achievement lies right under our noses. Strengthen and invest in the foundations of the culture and community of schools, and the students–and their teachers–will thrive.

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