Mentorship For New Principals


Leadership (Photo credit: glennharper)

Education vs Experience

Education vs Experience (Photo credit: gtalan)


A wind of change is blowing through many Barbadian schools.  Over the last few years many competent and experienced principals have retired and have been replaced by new and inexperienced school leaders.  This process continues apace and is quite evident at both the primary and secondary levels of education.  There was a recent training seminar which was organized for no less than 38 new primary school principals.  The sheer number of new principals must be a source of great concern for our education authorities, since they do not want to compromise or dilute the quality of the education which is delivered in our schools.  It will take a substantial period of time for most of them to demonstrate whether or not they can handle the myriad challenges of the principalship.

The principal is the main official determinant of school effectiveness and performance.  There is much support for this view in educational literature and practice.  Deep thought has to be given to the selection of new principals in the first place.  Interviewers must meticulously seek the best candidate.  The “best” being defined as the one who most clearly possesses the knowledge, skills, competencies, vision and mettle needed to move the school forward.  Those who seriously lack these qualities should not pursue positions of leadership.

The selection of a new principal, however, is not the end of the matter.  It is just the beginning.  Many new principals are thrown into the deep end of the management and leadership pool before they are fully ready and are left to swim or drown.  They are qualified and professionally trained for the job and yet they find that they are not equipped to deal with many of the problems  they meet on a daily basis.

These problems do not show up in the education legislation, training courses, professional literature or professional development seminars for new school leaders.  There are no ready solutions for them and the consequences of making a wrong decision may be grave.  Inexperience, hesitancy, fear and lack of self-confidence often become the unwelcome companions of new principals.  They have to think on their feet and some find that difficult and risky.  Others are reluctant to make tough decisions because they do not want to lose friends among the staff or face the wrath of a teachers’ union, an influential parent, a lawyer or the Ministry of Education.  The principal’s office can be a lonely place.

In order to shorten the learning curve for new principals and increase their self-confidence and effectiveness, we need to establish a formal system of mentorship for them.  By so doing, we can ensure that there is no palpable decline in the quality of management and leadership in our schools in spite of the retirement of so many competent principals at the same time.

The mentors can include successful, practising principals and retired principals who have a proven and respected track record of leadership during their tenure.  There should be a known list of mentors and mentees and, of course, a mentor may have more than one mentee.  Modern communications technology would allow them to contact each other at any time in order to solve urgent or emergent problems in the schools on a daily basis.  The two Associations of Principals, Primary and Secondary, and the Ministry of Education would be involved in this programme.

This kind of support for new principals would certainly reduce the current level of apprehension over the fate of so many schools with new leaders at this time.

Trevor Pilgrim.


4 thoughts on “Mentorship For New Principals

  1. I just discovered this blog. Congrats to you, sir, on this significant effort. I do appreciate the considerable time, effort, thought and commitment that this blog will demand.

    I note your comment: “The mentors can include successful, practising principals and retired principals who have a proven and respected track record of leadership during their tenure.”

    I chuckled somewhat. Selection of appropriate mentors might be very subjective…and might be at the root of the issue you wish to address.

    On what bases would “success” be determined? The concepts and understandings of what “leadership” really is are wide, varied and, sometimes, conflicting! Probably some clarity can be brought to bear on these two concepts.

    I wish you all the best with your blog, sir.


    • Thanks for your interest in my blog and the time you have taken to respond to it. I appreciate your thoughts on this post. I accept your assertion that selection of appropriate mentors might be subjective and might hypothetically perpetuate the problems I am trying to remedy. However, we can only use the principals we actually have, whether they be retired or practising. I am sure that we can find, among them, a number of true professionals who have led their schools wisely and whose schools have flourished under their leadership, with no semblance of turmoil or controversy. They are respected for doing their jobs quietly and effectively. I welcome any further ideas you may have on this subject.


  2. Thanks Sir for your post! my contribution is concerned with what you labeled as unwelcome companions of new principals. Hesitancy, fear, lack of self confidence occur because we are born and raised in cultures that teach us to be good boys and girls, whereby a good guy is rewarded whilst a bad one is punished. We are afraid of losing, most of us are scared of what people would say about us if we fail, and particularly for employed people- principals in our case, are scared of what might happen if they lose their jobs. My input to this I suggest principals learn about Nonviolent communication that provides an easy to grasp, effective method to get to the root of violence, pain and conflict peacefully. By examining the unmet needs behind what we do or say, NVC helps reduce hostility, heal pain and strengthen professional and personal relationships.
    It will help principals overcome fear, hesitancy, lack of self-confidence, inspire them to take decisions because they benefit schools, and then mentors would help then with the experience.


    • Thank you, Lambert, for your interest in this blog and for your recommendation of Non-Violent Communication as a tool which can help principals to deal with conflict, hostility and pain while strengthening professional and personal relationships. Let us encourage them to research this technique and use it. It will make a positive difference.


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