Monday / April 22

The 10 Pitfalls of Successful School Leadership

Contributed by Allan Bonilla

Most often, in talking about successful school leadership, we focus on the positive things to be done and neglect to point out the pitfalls. However, it is these pitfalls, which all too often prevent a leader from achieving success. Let’s see if any of these speak to you, and if so, can you avoid them?

1) Low Visibility
This is where a leader forgets the importance of being seen by students, teachers, and parents on a daily basis. Principals underestimate the significance of being seen by parents as they drop off their children in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. Classroom walk-throughs are so vital for a principal in order to remain aware of the climate of the school, yet many leave at the end of the day forgetting to perform this crucial task. And how about mingling with students in the cafeteria? Isn’t this a great place to see how students interact with each other? How about the opportunity it affords students to ask questions and to feel comfortable with their principal?

2) Desk/Office Fixation
How many hours a day do you spend in your office, on the phone, answering emails, reading the mail, preparing reports, and holding meetings? It was Goethe, who many years ago said, “Those things which matter most must never be at the mercy of those which matter least.” So, you decide what the best way is to be spending your time right now.

3) Lack of Delegation
So many school leaders become “burned out” because they believe they have to do it all themselves or they feel it might not get done right. I like to think that our role as school leaders is like that of a band leader who directs the band but does not play all the instruments. By not delegating administrative responsibilities to others, the principal is not only overburdening himself, but is also depriving others of leadership opportunities.

4) Programs over People
When you come into the school building each day are you thinking about programs or people? We are in a people business and so it’s people first, followed by programs, and then data. All the new curriculum initiatives and evaluation procedures will never come to fruition without the people in place first.

5) Dictatorial Style
Today’s leaders should be collaborative leaders and not old style top-down managers. Yet, so many leaders forget this and revert to the “I’m the leader, you’re the follower” mentality. We have often heard the expression, “My way or the highway.” This philosophy does not fit in a school where all should be empowered.

6) Lack of Praise & Recognition
Unfortunately, many principals find themselves so busy “jumping through hoops” that they forget how important it is to praise, compliment, and recognize the teachers for all the great things they do. We all want and need to be cared about and appreciated; however, this is an often overlooked aspect of leadership.

7) Criticizing and Discouraging
Often times, principals wonder why the morale of the faculty is not better. Why aren’t the folks happy and why do they always seem to be complaining? Could it be that they are often criticized in a negative way or perhaps their ideas are always discouraged?

8) Focusing on Negatives
There is no doubt that negatives are always around us, but to focus on those items we will block out even the opportunities that are positive.

9) Failure to Control Mood
We all have fluctuating emotions and sometimes come to our work with heavy concerns on our minds. However, the leader who allows a bad mood to be visible to others, especially on a regular basis, cannot expect to be respected.

10) Forgetting the Students
For some principals, with all that has to be accomplished in a day, the students often come last. It is easy to forget that, bottom line, we are here for the students’ achievements, as well as their social and emotional needs. Students want to know that their principal recognizes them and is there for them.

Allan R. Bonilla, Ed.D



Allan BonillaDr. Allan R. Bonilla was born in Orlando, FL, a bit before Disney, and was raised in NYC, where he graduated from Forest Hills High School. Teaching both English and Spanish at the middle and high school levels, led this educator to a role as a counselor, after earning a Master’s at Barry University, and then to an assistant principal position in a half dozen middle schools. Allan pursued his doctorate in education at Nova University and was appointed principal of one of the largest and most troubled middle schools in the 4th largest school district in the nation. Dr. Bonilla was recognized for his school’s accomplishments by being selected Principal of the Year out of a field of over 300 K-12 principals. He has worked with some 50 educators in assisting them to work through difficult situations, to achieve goals, and to celebrate their accomplishments.


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