Building Bridges: The Importance of Principal Collaboration

Posted by Courtney Stevens on Jan 22, 2019 10:27:26 AM

Two educators shaking hands


All parties stand to benefit when principals collaborate with each other.

We’ve all heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Transposing this idea into our own context, it hardly seems like a stretch to suggest that it also takes “a village” to educate a child.

In fact, a 2012 scientific literature review found that strong working relationships between teachers are an undeniably important component of school effectiveness. Similarly, a 2014 study conducted by researchers from Brown University and Harvard University demonstrated that increasing parent-teacher communication serves as a tremendous boon to student success.

But while collaboration between parents, teachers, and administrators has been shown to improve student outcomes time and time again, another equally critical set of relationships is all too often omitted from this conversation: collaboration between principals.

The fact of the matter is, most schools operate like islands. School leadership may report to and interact with the same district administrators, but principals rarely make a serious effort to work and communicate with each other — nor are they encouraged to do so. Of course, with so much on their plates, it’s little wonder why investing in themselves often seems like the lowest priority on principals’ to-do lists.


That said, collaboration between principals has the potential to not only facilitate the exchange of ideas, but have a positive, tangible impact on the success of students throughout a district.

The Principal Problem

With jobs, funding, and their school’s standing within their district on the line, it’s easy to understand why principals might view each other as rivals competing for limited resources rather than fellow “villagers.”

This sense of zero-sum competition contributes to the fact that school principals — alongside miners, commercial fishermen, and firefighters — are among the most stressed professionals in the American workforce. Especially in light of the evolving concerns surrounding school safety, it’s no wonder that principals experience acute stress at a rate 1.7 times higher than the general population. And as teacher retention rates continue to drop and the academic achievement gap remains unbridged, today’s school leaders arguably face more pressure than any of their predecessors.

In the face of this mounting pressure, many principals end up working upwards of 70 hours per week, taking on countless ad hoc responsibilities as they strive to ensure student success. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. By committing to more robust collaboration with their counterparts at other schools, principals can simultaneously eliminate many of their daily stressors and improve their schools’ performance.

Building Cross-District Connections

Creating a network of peer support allows principals to save time, work more effectively, and receive encouragement from the only people who truly understand the challenges of their position — other principals. What’s more, by working together, principals can develop new, ambitious approaches to student and educator success by sharing proven strategies across schools.

In order for this type of collaborative spirit to take hold, stakeholders must make a concerted effort to craft an educational culture defined by transparency. For instance, by leveraging sophisticated technology platforms, districts can encourage collaboration by painting a comprehensive picture of school performance throughout the district, highlighting notable successes and providing a platform that principals can use to communicate about their approaches to various initiatives — those that worked and, just as constructively, those that didn’t.

Further, as organizational leaders, it’s in principals’ best interests to model the behaviors they’d like their staff to exhibit. By helping develop a collaborative culture between schools, principals can inspire other educators — from classroom teachers to intervention specialists to support staff — to do the same.

Ultimately, when principals make an effort work together, it’s not only educators who stand to benefit, but students, families, and communities at large, as well.


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Topics : Leadership Tracking