The Principal Connection
The Craft of Conversation
The meeting at the Principals’ Center began early. Louise, a principal at a suburban school, arrived first, anxious to share. It
had been a long week at Louise’s school. A few
days earlier, the phone had rung at her home at
around 5:00 a.m. There had been an automobile
accident. One child was killed instantly; another, Aaron, a 3rd grader for Louise’s school,
The recent hours and days had
been nightmarish as Louise
phoned parents and communicated with the press and police.
She counseled and consoled parents and classmates and kept an
open line to the superintendent.
She became minister, manager,
counselor, and comforter. She
stood with police and family at the
wake and funeral.
Louise told the story—through
tears—to the other principals.
These people were more than an
audience. They were friends who may have had
to, or will someday have to, cope with similar
The events Louise shared struck a chord in
others who spoke of similar experiences. Some
were surprised at the quality of relationships
Louise had developed over the years with the
police. Several told of the crisis teams formed in
their own schools. The less experienced principals took notes. The comments ranged from “I
never thought of that” to “That’s something I’ve
got to get in place.” We shared stories about
complex issues that had no textbook answers. A
deep sense of the “wisdom of practice” was embedded in the conversation.
Conversation about craft knowledge among
practitioners offers principals rich professional
development. This readily available and inexpen-
sive learning enables leaders to share the real
worlds of their schools and construct incredibly
rich knowledge that walks a short path between
theory and practice.
Beginning your own principal conversation
doesn’t have to be complicated. You might form
a book club, breakfast club, or principals’ forum
that meets regularly to discuss a shared book, article, or other topic. You might split the time at
district leadership team meetings between the
usual “administrivia” and conversation among
principals—and only principals. Because central-office personnel have their own agendas, meet
with them separately. Leadership of your group
can rotate and be formal or informal. The purpose, always, should be conversation. No lectures or PowerPoint presentations!
Setting Ground Rules
Keeping conversations on high ground is crucial.
At the Principals’ Center, we have found the
following general guidelines to be invaluable:
; Establish a schedule. There is no convenient
time for everyone, so begin and end on time.
; Set ground rules similar to those expected of
students. “Take turns.” “Listen.” Above all,
demand confidentiality. Principals must feel safe.
; Stay focused. One person might facilitate the
process so the conversation stays on topic and
does not deteriorate into a whining party. All
have issues with the central office, parents,
teachers, and state and federal requirements.
Move beyond that.
; Network. If possible, invite principals from
several districts to the table. Although their
schools may differ in socioeconomic, racial, and
geographical dimensions, principals share an astounding commonality.
; Address essential questions. For example, a review of policies on cell phone usage might move
into considering how best to use current technologies. A conversation about bullying can
morph into an examination of school culture.