April 14, 2017 Fund Program

Principals Leaning on Each Other

Being a principal can be lonely, and many ask for more time to collaborate with other principals. See how principals are taking charge and creating their own informal networks, as well as taking advantage of The Fund’s programs to expand their support system. 

Inside a school, a single principal is responsible for connecting both the large bureaucratic system and the daily experience of individual students. This position of leadership is daunting for anyone, let alone when only one exists per building. Being a principal can be quite isolating, but many have created informal networks with other principals for guidance and support.

Principals establish support groups with individuals they have met on their path to principalship. Principal Lauren Albani of Lasalle II Magnet School remains friends with graduate school peers and Principal Melissa Zaikos of Intrinsic Schools has relationships with people she worked with while at Central Office for seven years. Lauren said, “You figure out your internal network… those who you know and trust and have similar philosophies.”

As the sole principal in the building, it is important to have others in the same position to go to in times of need. Lauren said, “I will text or call saying I have a question about whatever.” Melissa oversaw 100 principals while working at Central Office “that were all smart good principals so we run ideas by each other,” she said. Principals found that bouncing ideas off each other is a helpful way to uncover new ideas, receive constructive feedback and learn from other’s experiences.

Some principals receive formal forms of principal support. Patrick Henry Elementary’s Principal Juan Gutierrez has found this in his school network thanks to his network chief. He explained, “One of the things that the network created was a peer learning community. We were broken up into groups so I had an opportunity to work closely with those individuals. It allows us to build relationships and talk about our schools and share ideas.” Principal Joanne Tanner’s UCSN charter network brings all principals within the network together to focus on the logistics of the role.

These informal and formal principal support systems help individual leadership, but principals want even more time to collaborate with one another. Thanks to programs like the Chicago Principal Fellowship and the Summer Design Program, principals from across Chicago have a chance to work with and learn from one another. Principal Anna Pavichevich of Amundsen High School applied for the Chicago Principal Fellowship because “[I] have already used all my tricks and [I] need to work with other principals to discover more.” Joanne agreed, “I am just interested in meeting other people and learning from them and seeing what great things I can bring back, tweak, or enhance at my campus.”

PS: Applications are now open for the Chicago Principals Fellowship!