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The Globe and Mail took a closer look at the careers of five principals: Leslie Lee of Victoria’s George Jay Elementary School; Sheldon Barry of Holy Heart of Mary High School in St. John’s; Lorraine Kinsman of Calgary’s Cranston School; John-Paul Elliott of St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Gananoque, Ont.; and Andrea McAuley of R.H. Cornish Public School in Port Perry, Ont.ILLUSTRATION BY TONIA COWAN/The Globe and Mail

My principal is my mentor. I am a Guidance department head. He has shown me how to see the big picture and not get caught up in the details. He is flexible, creative, approachable, and listens. He has a vision and a plan that is inclusive and based on what is best for students...refreshing in a unionized environment that has lost this focus and puts teachers first. – Sharon Smyth, Markham, Ont.

I have always been a bit of a different learner and that was particularly true when I was a child. I had a lot of difficulty participating in classroom discussions (I never really got over that). But, my elementary school principal encouraged an open approach to education in his school. For me, that resulted in my being allowed to go to the school library during class time to conduct my own research into areas of my own interest. I would then write up reports, or sometimes stories. Later principals and teachers were less accepting of my different learning style, and I eventually dropped out of high school as a result. But, I was given sufficient positive experiences with education as a child that I eventually finished high school through correspondence, then went on to university. I now have a B.A., LL.B. and LL.M, and teach law. – Brian Parker, Port Moody, B.C.

In my opinion, good principals do many things. They are fair and empathetic with their staff, they have vision, and they have an obvious passion for making things better for their students that inspires those who work for them. Principals have quite a lot on their plate but those who live what they expect will, I feel, always get the best results. The first principal I worked with was inspiring because he was rarely in the office. He rode the buses, coached sports and helped teachers organize field trips. He was always looking for activities in and out of the school that could enrich the lives of the students at his schools. He spent his own money and gave hundreds of extra hours organizing and taking students on canoe trips that every student remembers as the highlight of their time at the school. He filtered the nonsense that is passed to teachers from above, and gave us the autonomy needed to be effective in our classes. He rarely had to tell the staff what was expected. He challenged us with his example and his staff rose to the challenge. – Cory Keeler, Kingston, Ont.

The principal in my daughter's school while she was growing up was awesome. She was firm but caring. Always put action with a consequence – positive and negative. A school is really run top down and when the principal and office staff make you feel welcome, the teachers do as well. – Michelle Jackson, Edmonton, AB.

A good principal exhibits compassionate enlightenment: They are as welcoming of critical thought and input from subordinates as they are proficient in its practice. They won't allow common sense to be subverted by what in some administrators' hands seems like a slavish parroting of our industry's most recent learning and teaching fads. They will actually listen to subordinates thereby affording us at least the impression that we matter. Finally, a good principal understands that effective communication, the very same that they encourage teachers to establish with students, must be ongoing and not limited to such things as official appraisals. – Charlie Sager, Ottawa, Ont.

I had a principal in my elementary school who had a huge impact on my life. He saw leadership potential in me during my final year, and encouraged me in a positive direction, the likes of which no other principal ever bothered to do. I owe much of my success to that individual. – Peter Ryan, Montreal, Que.

The ability to multitask yet be totally centred on the person/issue at hand for however long it takes. I observed a principal handling several issues with a child or teacher as she walked down the school hallway and was dealing with me as well. Amazing. – Rusty Joerin, Qualicum Beach, B.C.

Quite simply, a good principal recognizes that they are not doing the job alone. They have a team of talent in their building and the job they have to do is to bring out the best in every single person in that building. Every teacher, child, parent, support staff and so on has so much to share and the principal lets them know it is safe to do that. That is what a good administrator does. Schools that move forward have these kinds of principals. Schools that stall have principals that focus on self-promotion. – Mary MacLaughlin, St. Catherines, Ont.

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