LJHS Principal Mark Estrada Featured in Renowned Educational Publication

Spring 2015 | Volume 21 | Number 1 
Principal Leadership: Focus on Professional Development Pages 1-7

Principal Leadership: Focus on Professional Development

Glenn Cook


Mark Estrada taped a picture of his school's goals next to the light switch in his office so that he's constantly reminded of what's important.

"It's one of those little things you do to stay focused on the task at hand," says Estrada, principal of the 1,175-student Lockhart Junior High School in Texas. "Every time we have staff meetings or get groups together, we always take time out to discuss our goals. It's a constant … reminding yourself of what you're here for."

Estrada, an ASCD Emerging Leader, is serving his first year as Lockhart's principal after two years in the same position at Plum Creek Elementary, one of the junior high's feeder schools. Like many who are relatively new to administration, he's learning on the job what works and what doesn't.

Estrada and others have discovered that the days of leadership by decree are gone. Today, successful principals collaborate, communicate, and share responsibility with their teachers and staff. They understand the job has evolved to one that puts instructional leadership first, even when the mundane, though equally important, day-to-day administrative demands threaten to interfere.

"When I was in my graduate program, I was in training for a job that didn't exist yet," he says. "What I've learned, as a school leader, is that a lot of work has to be done before people can just start collaborating. I made a mistake in my first principalship by assuming that people would just want to work together, and that was a nightmare. You have to lead them to get to that point."

Still relatively new in the K–12 world, this flat leadership model brings with it a host of benefits and challenges. The vast majority of principals were teachers at some point, and many welcome the opportunity to address student learning through the development of professional learning communities (PLCs). At the same time, they worry about the increased potential for burnout and the challenges of developing a pipeline of leaders who eventually will consider building-level administration as an attractive and viable career option.

"If you look at [the principal's job] as a plate of food, instructional leadership is the new main course," says Pete Hall, an author and education consultant who was a principal for 12 years in Reno, Nev., and Spokane, Wash. "It's the filet, the tender, delicious filet. And it's the work that should be driving decision making for principals at every level, from making budget allocations to the teacher sciences to professional development."

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Courtesy of ASCD: Policy Priorities

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