Daniel Winters is currently a principal at Salt Creek Elementary School in Chula Vista, CA, which ranks amongst the few public elementary schools in California to receive a distinguished Great Schools Rating of 9 out of 10. Prior to that he was a principal at Halecrest Elementary in Chula Vista for 5 years. Chula Vista is a middle class community located in the southernmost part of San Diego county. This is part one of a two part series.
By Christi Grab, Contributing Editor, Parentella
Q: I think most people are unclear on exactly what a principal’s job entails. Will you explain?
A: Principals set the vision, or main goals, of the school. Principals try to get the staff, students and community to share the vision and rally around those goals. And, of course, to make that happen the principal needs to build relationships with staff, students and parents so we feel like a community. It is also creating a “culture of literacy” within the school where there is a love for learning that is both subjective and objective. My subjective test for literacy attainment is the “Under the Cover Test”. When you have students who are reading under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime, you have reached the level of literacy that I feel every child deserves.
Q: What do you do to inspire people to “rally around those goals” and how do you “create a culture with a love for learning?”?
A: Well, obviously the primary focus is on academic achievement. While test scores are not the end all of education, they do have some merit. We focus on improving student performance on a variety of measures (including state, district, and site assessments) that help us quantify gains or gaps and plan accordingly our next steps.
But what makes a principal good is combining the objective goals with the more subjective aspects of the job. A good principal builds motivation as a team, is an encourager and a cheerleader. A good principal recognizes effort and encourages innovation. A good principal monitors effectiveness and changes things that are not working as well as hoped. S(he) lets staff know it is OK if every innovative thing doesn’t work out, that what matters is the effort and learning that is gained from mistakes.
Q: Do you believe that there are certain personality traits that lend themselves to being a good principal?
A: Yes, first and foremost, a principal should be passionate about learning themselves. They should have people skills and leadership skills that include future orientation, enthusiasm, humility, and integrity. It helps if they are an avid reader as well.
Q: Do you believe that the principal has an influence on the teaching quality?
A: Absolutely, the principal has a tremendous influence – in fact, it is probably the #1 influence on teacher quality. When teachers, students, and the community feel that there is a good relationship within the schools, everyone is happier and tends to perform better overall.
Q: What are some examples of “innovations” that you encourage your teachers to try?
A: Salt Creek Elementary is a pioneer for the dual language immersion program, which gives students a bilingual and bi-cultural education from kindergarten through 6th grade. It is a wildly popular and successful program that is being implemented at various other schools in Chula Vista and San Diego County.
Halecrest Elementary recently implemented a math pilot program where we utilized the problem solving methodology used in Singapore that is producing excellent results. Basically, starting in kindergarten, students are introduced to the idea of having a question mark in a math problem. For example:
3 bears + 2 bears = ?
By having that question mark always visible, they more easily understand the concept of the unknown when they get to algebra. We tested that program in one class and found it to be successful, and have since implemented it school wide.
Another thing I am also encouraging is for teachers to use worksheets in a different way than how they are traditionally used. Traditionally, a new idea is introduced to students and they “learn” it by doing worksheets individually. But research has shown that learning is social, and that teaching using more social mediums tends to be more effective. I think that for initial learning, we should be utilizing alternatives that are more engaging, such as classroom discussions and short writing pieces. Once the teacher is confident that the students have mastered the material, worksheets can be used to practice these new skills, as opposed to using it for the initial learning. In summary, we want students to spend the majority of their day reading and writing using authentic texts and authentic tasks as opposed to filling out worksheets that are generally without context.
In part 2 of this interview, we talk further about teaching methodology and the innovative dual language program implemented at the school.
Christi Grab is contributing editor and writer for Parentella. She is a native of Southern California. After graduating from San Diego State University, she went on to be a successful business woman. In April of 2007, she and her husband decided to put their careers on hold and travel the world for two years. Ms. Grab has recently returned from her travels and is currently writing a book about their adventure. For more information on the trip, visit http://kosmos.liveflux.net/blog.
- Part 2: Education is a Team Sport
- Part 5: Long Lasting Effects
- Part 4: Making an Impact on Students
- Bloom Science Club
- Part 3: Every Child is Smart