Principal-Teacher Relationships

By Roy W. Lowrie, Jr.

The Christian Teacher (1959)

Some teachers have entered Christian schools with enthusiastic anticipation, only to drop out at the end of a year or two, discouraged and critical. The condition of internal relationships between faculty and administration may have been a significant reason for disappointment, perhaps even disillusionment. Things were out of joint and the teacher tired of a limping work. So the alternative seemed to be to resign.

An important factor in any one’s attitude toward his work is his feeling toward his immediate supervisor. The quality of the teacher-principal relationships is significant, then, in operating our schools. Foundation for the thoughts that will be expressed is the truth that administrator and staff are all members of the Body of Christ, though serving different functions in the work to which the Head has called us. We are to live in fellowship with Him while walking harmoniously with our colleagues. We are to obey those who have the rule over us. We are to prefer and serve one another. We are to magnify the Lord together.

The principal is charged with responsibility for implementing whatever policies have been established by the board. This process brings the teacher and principal together in a key relationship. This relationship must be clear and strong if the school is to be effective in its impact. Poor internal relations have a withering, crippling effect. They quench God in the school and result in parching heat rather than living water.

The principal, under God, under the board, is the educational leader of the school. If Emerson was correct when he said that an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man, the principal of a Christian school must take care that the projected shadow is that of, The Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. The principal and staff are co-laborers with Christ in developing a Christ-honoring educational institution.

The principal’s role as instructional leader does not imply superiority. Nor does it require unfriendliness. A hearty working relationship must exist between teachers and principal. Faculty must keep the principal informed of the progress and problems of each class. For his part, the principal should have an individual conference with each faculty member on a regular basis to maintain communication. Simple written records of these conferences should be made for immediate action and for recall during subsequent conferences. This procedure does not take the place of friendly, open communication between conferences. It is rather intended to emphasize the value of a definite, set time when principal and teacher discuss teaching situations, joys and unsolved problems. Needs are brought out, plans of action determined, specific prayer raised.

Teachers should not expect the principal to know the answer to everything, nor should he pretend omniscience. He must keep abreast, must help, must pray, must counsel.

Teachers and principal must have foresight in detecting potential problems in order that they may be dealt with before they become major. Faculty meetings and teacher principal conferences are the radar screens for detecting such problems.

Ready channels of easy access will tend to bring problems to early light and painless solution. Open communications are the first step in establishing the necessary problem-solving procedures.

The principal must help the staff to understand school policies. We can hardly exaggerate the value of establishing policies on the basis of which decisions may be made. For example, a known school policy on standards of discipline and methods of punishment must exist or else each teacher will do what is right in his own eyes. The result of no policy in this area is that children and parents are subjected to an incomprehensible maze of adjustments – the ground of much misunderstanding and dissension. Policies approved by the board and plainly communicated to the students and parents are indispensable. They remove insecurity from the teacher who is not quite sure how to discipline but knows she is held accountable for discipline. It seems unjust to press a teacher in this area if there are not clearly understood procedures for involving parents and administration in the prayerful handling of the discipline situation. Enforcing vague procedures or making quick, drastic disciplinary decisions: these are failures which invariably backfire, leaving staff or administration out on a limb. The unexpected quick change should be avoided.

In order that they may be clearly understood, school policies should be written up in a faculty handbook. This booklet is a very important link between administration, staff, students.

The principal is always counseling with teachers. The teacher who is doing an unsatisfactory job must be so informed by the principal in face to face conference. This involves constructive criticism and re-evaluation at a future conference to note what progress has been made. Such conferences are never easy for either party, but they are fruitful. The principal should never give a negative report on a teacher to the board without first conferring frankly with the teacher about the shortcomings and giving enough time to determine improvement or unwillingness or inability to improve.

The teacher should be provided with a voice to the education committee and the board about any problem which may develop with the principal, after trying to resolve those problems face to face with the principal. This does not imply a cloak and dagger school but a school where relationships are straightforward. Murmuring quenches God. Where there are open relationships there is seldom murmuring.

It is no secret that principals must rate teachers. If the principal shares his evaluation with the teacher, they are in a position to work together on definite points of improvement. Certainly the principal should encourage the staff toward improvement and vice versa. Many problems can only be solved cooperatively. Personal involvement in working on our problems strengthens relationship, stimulates interest, draws thinking from all, reaches decisions. And such decisions are more easily implemented because those concerned know the issues and share in the conclusions. It is “our” school, not “the principal’s” school.

If the principal ivory towers himself away from the faculty, or if he places the reins of leadership upon the faculty, there will be no wholesome relations. If the power in a school resides elsewhere than in the formal organization, elected and appointed to responsibility, troubles arise. For example, if a domineering teacher is really in charge, or if the secretary runs the principal, or if teachers or the principal run the board, or if the board does not work through the principal, multiplied problems will result. All relationships are then vulnerable to undue tensions. Schools have broken because of this very thing.

Each of us lives under authority. If we undercut that authority, our ill gained popularity is vain and does not help relations or the local testimony.

Regular prayer meetings, preferably each morning, are the sine qua non of principal-teacher relations. Informal social times are helpful, but waiting together upon God on behalf of the school binds hearts. Though some organization and administration are necessary, it would be possible to have a highly organized and smoothly administered school – without God.

Someone has said that most Christian works begin with an apostolic spirit which changes gradually into a mechanistic spirit of operation as those involved gain in experience. “An idea gives birth to an organization, then the organization proceeds to kill the idea.”

We must remember that while one sows and another reaps, God gives the increase. A genuinely harmonious relationship between teachers and principal gives opportunity for God to work.

“Father, may the increase in our school not be destroyed by my relationships to those for whom I am responsible, or to whom I am responsible.”

Last updated by Lisa Lanpher Apr 9, 2013.

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