The Principals' Office Blog

Environmental Education: What Is Our Responsibility?

The author of the Speaking Out article in the November/December 2007 issue of Principal magazine has “a renewed sense of urgency” about environmental education and believes that it’s the responsibility of school leaders to integrate it into the curriculum. In her article, Kendra Kecker asks, “If we are in an environmental crisis—which is becoming harder and harder to refute—doesn’t it make sense ... to start educating children at a young age and instilling behaviors we’re currently trying to change in adults?”

Do you think it’s necessary to incorporate an environmental education program at your school? What kind of environmental projects and activities do your students do? Is it even a school’s responsibility to teach students about how to care for the environment?

Proud to be a Principal

As we mentioned earlier this week, NAESP is running a Proud to be a Principal campaign through November 15. But we want to hear from you. Tell us, and your colleagues, why you’re proud to be in a profession that impacts millions of students, thousands of teachers, and hundreds of communities.

Trumpet your successes and your role as a school leader and share your proud to be a principal moment here on the Principals’ Office. If you want to learn more about the campaign or listen to a Proud to be a Principal sound byte, featuring NAESP's executive director Gail Connelly, visit

Where Are the Male Teachers?

The value of a racially diverse staff is a recurrent subject, but gender diversity is just as important. Stereotyping, low pay, and few mentors are among the reasons that the percentage of male teachers is at a forty-year low, according to Newsweek. This dearth is especially alarming given the evidence, however controversial, that teachers’ gender affects student learning. Whatever your take on Thomas Dee’s findings that “learning from a teacher of the opposite gender has a detrimental effect on students’ academic progress,” it is undisputable that children need strong male and female role models from an early age. In elementary schools, the problem is even more distinct, as male teachers number only nine percent.

Proud to be a Principal

NAESP invites you to let everyone know that you’re PROUD TO BE A PRINCIPAL! From October 1—November 15, 2007, we encourage you to trumpet your successes and your role as a school leader. You play an important role in your community and the lives of the children you serve. Now is your time to shine! To get you started, below is a copy of the Principals’ Creed. So stand tall, say the Principals’ Creed aloud, and let everyone know how proud you are to be a principal.

Principals’ Creed  We are dedicated to ensuring that every child in Americareceives a quality education.
We care about our country by caring deeply about its children.
We believe that no barrier should separate a child
from the best education a school can offer...
that neither race nor sex nor ethnic heritage nor geography nor social or economic statusmay be used to deny a child the opportunity to acquirea solid foundation in reading, writing, and critical thinking...and in the values of friendship, compassion, honesty, and self-esteem,We accept the challenge of the research showing thatquality education in every school depends on the expertise, dedication, and leadership of the principal of that school.

Take a Stand on Behalf of Your Students

Jonathan Kozol, the award-winning author of The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, is once again making quite the statement. He has been on a hunger strike of sorts since early July. The 71-year-old has lost about 29 pounds, bringing the 5-foot-9 inch education activist to a mere 132 pounds—all for the sake of America’s schoolchildren. Kozol is protesting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is up for renewal this year. According to the Boston Globe, Kozol said he will continue his partial fast until Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy (a sponsor of the original bill) agrees to overhaul what Kozol called a punitive law that relegates urban schoolchildren to an inferior, stripped-down education and demoralizes teachers, who he believes are forced to teach to the test.

NAESP’s reauthorization recommendations detail what the Association believes should be changed to make ESEA more effective and less punitive on the nation’s schools. Learn how you can make your own statement by visiting NAESP’s Federal Legislative Action Center. Lawmakers need to know how ESEA affects principals and their schools, so what better way is there other than to hear from principals themselves?

Get Moving

Celebrate the Cartoon Network's second annual National Recess Week (Sept. 24-28) by encouraging children to "get moving." Hold a schoolwide recess rally and invite parents and members of the community to participate. This year, elementary schools can register for the Rescuing Recess Volunteer Challenge and enter for a chance to win playground equipment and up to $25,000 in grants. Visit for more information.

Avoid Serving Alphabet Soup to Parents

NCLB, AYP, IDEA, IEP—these are but a few of the numerous acronyms and abbreviations that principals and other educators use on a regular basis when discussing education. Throw in the district- or state-specific terms, such as the acronyms used for some state tests, and it’s no surprise that many parents are scratching their heads when they see the alphabet soup all over school letterhead, or even in newspaper articles.

According to a recent Tennessean article, one school system provides a catalog of phrases for parents to learn as a way to help ease the possible confusion. It’s no easy task for us to keep track of all the abbreviations, so make sure to keep that in mind when corresponding with your students’ parents.

Above All Else, It's the People That Make a School Successful

Politicians can legislate benchmarks and teacher qualifications, but they cannot legislate effectiveness. That task is up to principals, according to Todd Whitaker, professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University. Whitaker, who speaks to approximately 250,000 educators every year, believes that regardless of the educational climate, great schools start with great people. Vision 2021 forecasts that principals will need to act as chief learning officers to lead great schools in the future.

Whitaker advises principals on how they can improve the effectiveness of their learning communities. They should aim to hire the best people and work to improve the ones they already have on staff. One of the best ways to do the latter is to create a culture where teachers learn from each other through informal, nonevaluative, peer observations. Educators are often isolated, and even feel threatened by the thought of being observed or being told to observe others. Whitaker believes principals can overcome this hurdle by starting with their best teachers and their new teachers. The best teachers are more confident in their abilities and more willing to work at their craft. The new teachers are the easiest to assimilate into a culture of peer learning. According to Whitaker, “The induction process begins during the interview,” as principals inform candidates that peer observations are part of the school’s culture.

Since principals generally come from the teaching ranks, they also may have an “independent contractor” mindset. Principals need to observe great principals to improve as well. "Unless a principal had great administrators as a mentor and teacher, she or he may have seen few examples of quality leadership," says Whitaker.

Evaluating Technology in the Classroom

Principals recognize that technology will play a much bigger role in the future but according to Yong Zhao, a professor of education at Michigan State University, technology is often used ineffectively and evaluated incorrectly in the classroom. Zhao argues that technology often duplicates the abilities and tasks normally assigned to teachers and that principals, currently charged with putting technology in the classroom, must be leaders in shaping how efficiently and effectively that technology is used.

Zhao points to a recent study involving reading instruction for elementary students, where one group was taught primarily by a classroom teacher and the other by an educational software application. The study showed minimal differences in outcomes, leading many to conclude that the technology was not effective. Zhao provides a counterargument: “Since the difference is minimal, leave the basic instruction to the computer and the advanced comprehension instruction, as well as small group remediation, to the teacher,” he says. The result would be a gain in efficiency due to a differentiation in the tasks. Zhao also believes that there needs to be a push at the system level to harvest the power of connectivity across the globe. For example, England is currently mandating that all of its schools each have a global partner school within the next few years. Schools need to emphasize digital citizenship; that is, the ability to cultivate skills on how to correctly use the powers of information, economics, and interaction available on the Internet.

Setting Expectations for Teaching Technology Literacy

One of the ideas that has emerged from the Vision 2021 initiative is the concept of principals as “chief learning officers” of their schools, championing the learning of skills essential for participating in a global society. Annette Smith, an assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Services at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, believes that principals need to be advocates in promoting the teaching of information, communication, and technology literacy. “The ‘digital natives’ we are educating have quite a handle on using technology and often teach us how the technology works,” she says.

According to Smith, using technology appropriately and being able to critically decipher and analyze information are skills that transcend the ability to operate the technology and therefore can be taught regardless of skill level. It is still not a simple process, however. Smith stresses that teaching literacy requires principals to ask several tough questions and challenge some commonly accepted practices. For example, should educators block every imaginable site with a firewall, or should schools take the lead in educating students and the community on how to make those decisions on their own?  Should schools block popular social networking and user-generated content sites, such as MySpace and YouTube, or should principals look for ways to utilize them to enhance the child’s educational experience?  Smith says that while children’s safety is an important concern, only allowing students to visit a short list of teacher-approved sites may inhibit their critical-thinking skills.

Smith also cites a need for quality media programs and staff. They are the “highly qualified” professionals best suited to teaching information, communication, and technology literacy.  She also recognizes the need for finding methods to quickly and easily collect, disseminate, and distribute research and best practices for teaching literacy and promoting it within schools and the district. Principals can learn from their students on this and use social networking sites to collaborate on this task or knowledge exchanges like NAESP’s new E-Knowledge Portal for Principals.

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