A Principal's Voice in School/University Partnerships

By Charles S. Serns

The role of the principal is one fraught with ambiguity. The notion that the principal is the instructional leader of the school as well as the business manager, public relations expert, compliance officer, mediator and good person to all is a myth. The complexity of a contemporary public school finds principals in ever changing roles that are subject to the whims of school boards, legislatures, and powerful special interest groups whose agendas have little to do with teaching and learning. Given this state of affairs, what options are open to principals to allow them to focus on children and their need to make meaning of the world around them? Partnerships can prove to be part of the answer.

Principals who are able to make a variety of connections with the community as a whole are able to get out of some of the systemic mire and into constructive areas that meet the needs of children served by the school. Powerful partnerships between parents, community members and business offer opportunities and advantages. The principal, through a shift from system maintenance to learning facilitator, begins to manage the learning climate and professional environment of the school. One particular partnership that can greatly improve the instructional climate is the partnership between the university and the school.

Three of its advantages are an enhanced sense of a learning community, teacher empowerment and expanded leadership roles. Each allows the principal to move into leadership realms which are more powerful, more productive and significantly impact the teaching and learning process.

The establishment of a learning community is a multifaceted task. It is both a philosophical stance and an organizational necessity. The learners in the community are expansive and inclusive. Making meaning is more apropos than finding truth. This task can only be done with reflection and a willingness to be introspective on both a personal and organizational level. The partnership process allows for this format because it allows educators to examine the whats, hows and whys of daily practice. The collaborative efforts of school people and university people allow for a strong research base to be adopted to the practical setting so that children's learning is the result of carefully thought out and skillfully delivered activities. The meld of theory, practice, and delivery has the potential to improve learning and learners...both young and old.

Teachers are the professionals who face children on a day to day basis. The teacher is the person who is accountable not only for presenting the items to be learned but also for assessing what is learned and how it is applied. To assure that this process happens, professional development is a necessity. It is the means to analyze the best practice. Since this analysis is incomplete in isolation, partnerships offer educators a means to assess and improve practice by assessing and improving professional response. The knowledge gained in this process empowers educators by expanding the significance of choices, responses and analysis in regards to student learning.

A school that has a learning community and an empowered community allows itself to have expanded leadership roles at all levels for teachers and for students. This expansion allows principals the comfort of knowing that decisions are being made as a result of greater knowledge and from a broader range of stakeholders. Partnership and collaboration are key forces in establishing leaders. This agreement frees the principal from being all things to all people and from the impossible task of being an expert in all areas. The principal can focus the endeavor on the mission of the school and facilitate meeting the needs of children. By giving away some of the leadership roles and responsibilities, the principal's role is actually strengthened. Joining together as partners is more powerful and provocative than standing alone.

One of the most productive challenges a site based administrator faces is the forging of alliances and partnerships. University partnerships allow for increased learning for the partners and for best practice for students. It is a process that is renewing and invigorating and opens doors to possibilities far more profound than simply managing a school.

Back to Table of Contents of the Spring 1996 Issue of On Common Ground

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