Sanée Bell

Leading and Learning with Purpose

The principal is the most visibly recognizable person in the school.  Principal leadership is the second greatest indicator of student achievement after teacher instruction. Furthermore, the principal’s ability to lead in a way that inspires and energizes teachers is critical to building successful schools. Leaders must be able to build capacity, commitment and the collective efficacy within their schools in order to ensure that teachers are fully equipped to meet the current challenges of public education.

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There is a myriad of educational research that focuses on various leadership styles and the evolving role of school principals. Most research is geared at one particular style of leadership over another; however, through my academic research and personal experience as a school principal, I believe that leaders must possess the following traits in order to meet the demands facing school leaders today:

  • Influencer
  • Capacity Builder
  • Relationship Crafter
  • Systems thinker

Influencer. The leader’s ability to establish and communicate a clear vision to followers is key to being able to motivate others to join them in realizing the vision. Leaders who are influential excite and energize followers because they are inspirational and driven. They have a can-do attitude and can see the possibilities of their organization despite the challenges and setbacks that may present themselves. Followers want to identify with a principal who demonstrates these qualities, and they place a high degree of trust and confidence in them as a leader. Influencers do not accept the status quo. They challenge the mantra “we have always done it this way.” They inspire and aspire greatness, and because of this, they serve as a model for those who follow them.

Capacity Builder. Building professional capital within an organization is a key driver for effective principal leadership. Capacity builders value learning and are not only focused on how they can help others grow, but they are committed to their own growth and development as well. Principals who are committed to developing the professional capital of the teachers in their building establish systems and structures that foster and support a culture of collaboration. An environment of this nature allows teachers to learn from and share with each other best practices and pedagogical expertise and experiences. The principal is a part of this collaborative culture and serves as the lead learner in the organization. The principal leads by ensuring that instructional best practices are researched, shared, taught and evaluated.

Relationship Crafter. Being skilled in the area of relationship building is key to moving an organization from buy-in to ownership. Principals who put an emphasis on relationships are skilled in meeting the individual needs of their employees. They approach each individual differently, which allows them to differentiate support and professional learning. Relationship crafters intentionally focus on building the culture of the organization and use the collective efficacy of the group to motivate, challenge and inspire its members.

Systems Thinker. Principals must be able to work within the greater system to meet the demands placed on public schools at the same time they are thinking and working outside of the box to innovate. Being able to see the big picture and communicate the vision so that others are inspired is a critical component of principal leadership. Recognizing complex issues and problems and how they impact the organizational system is a critical skill. Providing meaning and purpose for followers help the organization remain focused on achieving the vision despite any obstacles that may arise. Systems thinkers are able to work on the system as a whole by focusing on the key drivers that will have the greatest, sustainable impact on organizational improvement, instead of fragmented strategies that lead to short-term wins.

The role of the principal has never been more complex and more critical to the success of public schools than it is now.  With the increased measures of accountability, the varied social and emotional needs of students, being able and available to respond to the needs of teachers, parents and the community, and the other complex variables that influence public education today, leaders must have a tremendous skill set to be able to identify the right drivers in which to focus their attention and efforts.

These are the skills and traits that have helped me on my leadership journey. They are adaptable and transferable to any setting or situation. What other skills and traits can be added to the list? I would love to hear your thoughts.



10 thoughts on “Evolving Role of Principal Leadership

  1. Brenda Nichols says:

    Awesome and insightful post. You have me thinking….how do we measure how we’re doing at this complex job we have as principal? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. saneebell says:

      I ask my teachers, students and parents for feedback. I think to get to that point, we have to be comfortable with ourselves as leaders and be able to use the feedback as a means for growth. I also observe what my school culture is telling me. This gives me great insight into how I am coming across as a leader. There is no set way, and because of the complexity of the role, we must utilize multiple measures. That is a great question, Brenda! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.


  2. Aaron says:

    I completely agree with your list. One aspect that I draws on relationships, influence and capacity building is the fact that leaders often see the potential in others even when others may not see it in themselves. It’s at that point where the leader who has established a high degree of trust is able to convince others to take risks, triggering learning and thereby building the capacity of the organization.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. saneebell says:

      Bingo, Aaron! We have to see the greatness in others and provide a safety net of support so they are willing to try new things. Think about the student who will only work hard for certain teachers. The same is true for teachers. In my opinion, building relationships is the cornerstone to innovation. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!


  3. Mark McCord says:

    Hey Sanee! I would elaborate on your capacity building focus to include reflective practice. Modeling how we reflect is a big part of this. I think that is one of my favorite “side effects” of blogging. Our staff has the opportunity to take a glimpse inside of our reflective processes. Another skill that evolved leaders have is the ability to ask questions to help staff members to become self aware of their instructional competencies. These collegial conversations have the potential To serve as a launch pad for personalized professional learning. I appreciate you blogging to give us all a look inside your thought processes. Investigate… ideate…formulate… communicate… evaluate and then celebrate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. saneebell says:

      You got it, Mark! A reflective practitioner is an engaged practitioner. I love the process you shared at the end. I will add that to my memory bank! Thanks for reading and commenting.


  4. crockow8 says:

    Reblogged this on The Optimistic Educator and commented:
    Thoughtful words by Sanee Bell. Key traits necessary to be an effective leader: Influencer, Capacity Builder, Relationship Crafter, Systems Thinker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. saneebell says:

      Thanks for reading and sharing, Connie! See you soon at #WGEDD.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Deanna Krenek says:

    Thanks for your positive influence and support, for building capacity with your vision (personalized for each of us), for serving as mediator and relationship-builder, and for keeping us focused on what is most important!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. saneebell says:

      Thanks for these kind words, Deanna! You guys work so hard with our students. My job is to support and serve so you can be the best you can be for our kids! Thanks for being so willing to go on this journey with me!


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