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The Principal's Role

The successful principal of a school has many roles to play as he or she interacts with all members of the school's community. Broadly speaking, for district-level administrators, the interaction is about the business of managing a school; for teachers, the interaction is about the teaching and learning of a curriculum; and for parents the interaction is about the success of individual children. When CMP is adopted, the principal who takes the time to become knowledgeable about the curriculum will be better able to support teachers and answer parent questions. Becoming knowledgeable is the first step.

In the initial stages of selection and adoption, the district committee will have sought out evidence of reasons for adopting CMP, of current achievement levels of students, of the success of CMP in other districts, and of the preparation of teachers to implement CMP. The district committee will also have sought answers to questions about how students with disabilities or gifted and talented students succeed in CMP, about the place of Algebra in CMP, and about the issues to be considered in helping students make successful transitions from elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school. This evidence and current thinking about these issues should be shared with principals so that they feel confident that a thoughtful decision has been made, and so that they can relate achievement goals and teacher preparation to their own buildings. The building principal needs to be knowledgeable so that he or she can speak confidently and supportively about the curriculum and related issues to teachers and to parents.

Since CMP is standards based and problem centered, the principal will need to find time to understand what these two terms mean, and what this kind of curriculum looks like in a classroom when it is being successfully implemented. In this role, the principal is acting like the principal teacher in the building, by asking questions such as, "What research backs this kind of approach? What does this kind of curriculum mean for student groupings? What role does the teacher have? What help will the teacher need in organizing this kind of classroom? What can I do to help with classroom issues?" If the principal is knowledgeable about the curriculum and teacher needs, then more teachers are apt to "buy-in" to the curriculum.

After becoming knowledgeable about the curriculum, the principal will also have to consider his or her role in professional development activities. When teachers attend professional development activities to help themselves successfully implement CMP, they learn firsthand about the mathematics in the Units, about the connections among Units, and about how Problems are sequenced to develop mathematical ideas. They also learn about pedagogical aspects of the curriculum: why the curriculum is organized the way it is, what the teacher's role is in the Launch phase of a lesson, in the student exploration of a Problem, and in the crucial Summarize phase. There is only so much a principal can do to learn about a curriculum by reading about it. The principal who actively participates in professional development will be much more knowledgeable and will be perceived as much more supportive by teachers. Just as teachers learn to ask questions about what their students have learned and how they can be more supportive of student learning, so too can the principal ask, "Do some of my building's teachers seem to need more help with the mathematics than others? How can I get them this help? Who seems fearful or resistant? Why is that? What can I do to increase the confidence of the teachers in my building so that they can implement CMP? Do they need more information? More encouragement?"

As the building leader, the principal is the point person when questions come from district administrators and from parents and guardians. Thus, the principal can be an advocate for teachers. When professional support for teachers needs district approval, the principal can make a case for what is needed; when concerned parents and guardians have questions about a teacher's unfamiliar classroom practices, the principal can knowledgeably reassure the parents and support the teacher.

It is important to be supportive of teachers in the evaluation process. When both teachers and principals understand the goals of CMP and how these goals are achieved, then the process of evaluating teachers has integrity and validity that would be lacking otherwise. Evaluation based on mutually valued goals and practices fosters professionalism. The opportunity for a principal to observe and evaluate how CMP is being enacted in a particular classroom can be an opportunity to reinforce these common goals and aspirations.