The Oral History of the Principalship

Patrick W. Carlton, Ph.D.
Project Director
Phone: 540-231-9728

Oral History of the Public School Principalship - Protocol


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Would you begin by telling us about your family background-your childhood interests and development? (Birthplace, elementary and secondary education, family characteristics.)

Would you discuss your college education and preparation for entering the field of teaching? How many years did you serve as a teacher? a principal?

I wonder if you would discuss those experiences or events in your life that constituted important decision points in your career and how you feel about them now.

Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding your entry into the principalship?

What motivated you to enter the principalship? How did your motives change over the years?

Would you take us on a walk through your school, describing its appearance and any unusual features of the building?

Would you describe your personal philosophy of education? How did it evolve over the years?

Would you describe the instructional philosophy of your school, telling how it was developed and how it evolved over time?

What experiences/events in your professional life influenced your management philosophy? Please discuss these events.

What techniques did you use to create a successful climate for learning? Would you describe successful and any unsuccessful experiments in climate building in which you were involved?

What kinds of things do teachers expect principals to be able to do? Describe your views on what it takes to be an effective principal, describing the personal and professional characteristics of the "good principal."

As a follow up question, would you describe the expectations, both professional and personal, that were placed upon principals by their employers and the community during your period of employment? How do those expectations differ from today's situation?

A great deal of attention has been given to the topic of personal leadership in recent years. Please discuss your approach to leadership and describe some techniques which worked for you-and an incident in which your approach failed.

Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this point in time. Would you discuss the nature of your student body (bodies) and comment on the problems, challenges and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal?

Would you discuss your participation in handling the Civil Rights situation (integration) and describe your involvement with busing?

It has been said that curriculum has become much more complex in recent years. Would you comment on the nature of the curriculum during the time you were principal and compare it to the situation in today's schools, citing positive and negative aspects of the situation then and now?

There are those who argue that standardized testing can provide a way to improve instruction. Please discuss your experience with such testing and provide us your views on its effect on the quality of the instructional program.

Could you describe your work day? That is, how did you spend your time? What was the normal number of hours per week you put in?

Would you describe some of the pressures you faced on a daily basis and explain how you coped with them? Describe your biggest headaches or concerns on the job. Describe the toughest decision or decisions that you had to make.

Would you tell us the key to your success as a principal?

Please discuss your professional code of ethics and give examples of how you applied it during your career.

Would you describe those aspects of your professional training which best prepared you for the principalship? Which training experiences were least useful?

If you had to do it again, what kinds of things would you do to better prepare yourself for the principalship? Would you describe your feelings, knowing what you now know, about entering the principalship yourself if given the opportunity to start anew?

What suggestions would you offer to universities as a way of helping them to better prepare candidates for administrative positions? Comment on weaknesses in traditional programs of training for administrators.

What is your view on the "mentoring" program for new administrators, in which an experienced administrator is paired with a neophyte? What experiences have you had with such an approach? Was there a mentor in your life?

There are those who argue that, more often than not, central office policies hinder, rather than help, building level administrators in carrying out their responsibilities. Would you give your views on this issue?

If you were "king," what changes would you make in the typical system-wide organizational arrangements as a way of improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness?

If you were advising a person who is considering an administrative job, what would that advice be?

There are those who argue that the principal should be an instructional leader, and those that suggest that, realistically speaking, this person must be, above all, a good manager.Would you give your views on this issue and describe your own style?

Would you describe the ideal requirements for principal certification and discuss appropriate procedures for screening those who wish to become principals?

It is often said that the principal should be active in community affairs. Please discuss your involvement with and participation in civic groups and other community organizations. Which community organizations or groups had the greatest influence?

It has been said that there is a home-school gap and that more parental involvement with the schools needs to be developed. Would you give your view on this issue and describe how you interacted with parents and with citizens who were important to the well being of the school?

A good deal of attention has been given to career ladders, differential pay plans and merit pay in recent years.Would you give your views on these issues and describe any involvement you had with such approaches?

Would you describe your approach to teacher evaluation and give your philosophy of evaluation?

A good deal is said these days about teacher grievances. Would you give your views on the desirability of such procedures and describe your approach to handling teacher dissatisfaction?

Would you discuss teacher dismissal and your involvement in such activities?

What, in your view, should be the role of the Assistant Principal? Discuss your utilization of such personnel while on the job. Would you describe the most effective assistant principal with whom you had opportunity to serve? What became of this individual?

As you view it, what characteristics are associated with the most effective schools, and what features characterize less successful ones?

During the past decade schools have become much larger. Discuss your views on this phenomenon and suggest an ideal size for a school in terms of optimal administrative and instructional activities.

In recent years more and more programs for special groups of students (LD, Gifted and Talented, Non-English speaking) have been developed. Please discuss your experience with special student services and your views on today's trends in this regard.

Salaries and other compensation have changed a good deal since you entered the profession. Would you discuss your recollections of the compensation system of your school during your early years as principal and give your views on developments in this area since then.

Most systems presently have a tenure, or continuing contract system for teachers. Would you discuss the situation at the time you entered the profession and comment on the strengths and weaknesses of such a system?

There has traditionally been a commitment in this country to the principle of universal free public education. Would you give your views on this concept and indicate your feelings on the practicality of such an approach in this day and time?

Administrators presently spend a good deal of time complaining about the amount of paper work and the bureaucratic complexity with which they are forced to deal. Would you comment on the situation during your administrative career and compare the problems you encountered with your perceptions of the situation at this time?

Given the presence of administrative complexity, if there were three areas of administration that you could change in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of educational administration, what would they be?

As a follow up question, if you could change any three areas in the curriculum or overall operations of American schools, what would they be?

Would you describe your relationship with the Superintendent in terms of his general demeanor toward you and your school?

Would you discuss your general relationship, pro or con, with the Board of Education and comment on the effectiveness of school board operations in general?

Principals operate in a constantly tense environment. What kinds of things did you do to maintain your sanity under these stressful conditions?

Please discuss any instances of student violence in school s with which you came in contact, and the approaches you took to controlling and eliminating such activities?

Since you have now had some time to reflect on your career, I wonder if you would share with us what you consider to be your administrative strengths and weaknesses?

Would you discuss the circumstances leading up to your decision to retire at the time you did, giving your reasons and the mental processes you exercised in reaching the conclusion to step down?

Would you give us an overall comment on the pros and cons of administrative service, and any advice you would wish passed along to today's principals?

Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in my questioning, there is probably something I have left out. What have I not asked you that I should have asked?

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