What’s a School Without a Principal? A Better School

What’s a School Without a Principal? A Better School

By Ben Collins

Maybe the generation-defining problem with
hierarchy isn’t actually a problem. Maybe it’s a solution.

Funny thing happened at a Brooklyn charter school: Its principal stopped acting like a principal. Kalam Id-Din is not stuffy and the only guy in a suit, his comportment not styled after a mob boss or a movie villain. He is not an above-all disciplinarian. He is a teacher and a helper and utility player. He runs the place, but that does not preclude him from being a part of it.

And guess what? According to Slate, it’s working.

The school’s entire approach to discipline, for instance, was designed by teachers and was rooted in the idea that every action is a deliberate choice by a student. Kalam Id-Din says the djed rooms are much more effective than a trip to the principal’s office, citing the school’s low suspension rate as evidence.

Professional Prep is one of a growing number of so-called “teacher-led” schools operating across the country. With some 70 schools in existence, and another 20 on track to open in the next couple years, they function more like worker cooperatives than traditional top-down schools. “Each individual classroom is its own schoolhouse,” said Kalam Id-Din.The journalism institutions that are working are the ones with flat management structure. Look at Vox, which old media actively hates because they refuse to understand how it could work.

Basically, they’re treating kids like people. And
it starts with the principal acting like a person first.

Leading by example in the true sense—not the example of “dictate, and portray remarkable decorum,” but actually exemplifying the role of a great teacher and leader in person, every day—is not the easy way. Getting over pride is harder than it sounds.

“It would be a lot easier, structurally, if I just made all the decisions and said, ‘This is what it is, here’s my policy, live by it,’” says Stacy Gauthier, another non-principal principal.

It’s not easier, but it is working for kids. And it’s working for adults, too. Just look at tech companies like Github and Google. They call their manager-free, collaborative office evironments “open allocation.” As FastCo. put it, “Young employees—Millennials—don’t respect hierarchy for the sake of itself.”

Give credit to Id-Din and that new wave of principals: A lot of people would call that a generation-defining problem. He calls it a solution.

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