In May 2019, 150 school principals from across the country participated in an edWeb survey on the topics, challenges, and accomplishments they experienced this year as the educational leaders in their buildings.
Some of the most significant challenges and successes were highlighted in a recent edWebinar, presented by Shannon Holden, principal of Pierce City High School (MO), and Dr. L. Robert Furman, principal of South Park Elementary Center (PA).
Interestingly, no matter what the topic,
all surveyed school principals pointed to a universal message that school culture can either be a catalyst for student success or a roadblock to positive changes.
Four common challenges for school principals
1. One of the basic needs school principals strive to meet, and the one that presents the most challenge is ensuring students feel safe in their school environment. In today’s world, school leaders and classroom teachers face increased physical and mental safety issues among their students.
Many students come to school having experienced trauma in their lives, and this trauma presents itself as self-harm, violence towards others, and depression or anxiety. School leaders must build a culture that manifests itself as a positive, safe learning environment. Focusing on students’ mental well-being provides a supportive environment that has seen higher graduation rates, increased engagement, and reduced mental health issues for students.
2. The challenge of student discipline and student motivation is a battle of “will vs. skills” when students have the skills to complete assignments or perform well on tests but lack the motivation or the will to be successful. Once again, tying back to positive school culture, if students are feeling positive about coming to school and know that people care about them, they seem to want to perform.
Principals stress that they need to put time into building relationships and giving students ownership in the school. It is critical to keep students at the forefront when making decisions and changes. It’s also necessary to recognize that what’s best for students is more important than convenient for staff. By increasing the effectiveness of student’s voices and talking with individual students to get them to “see the light,” school leaders have witnessed students turning their academic failure into academic achievement.
3. The combined task of refereeing conflicts between staff and maintaining a positive climate that benefits students is another common challenge for school principals. Balancing learning while maintaining support from the staff is a struggle when school principals deal with the traditional ways “things” are done while making much-needed changes. When teachers feel valued, supported, and safe, the impact results in teacher collaboration, higher engagement, and staff retention. Most importantly, teachers develop innovative practices that ensure learning environments are best for students. It is important to remember to keep the school environment upbeat and positive by giving changes time to be implemented and being strong enough to recognize when something is not working and when to get it off the table.
4. Time constraints and lack of funding are obstacles for building principals when managing a building, supervising staff, and leading the school and district vision. Having the time and enough staff is critical to effectively encourage and coach teachers to do the initiatives principals want to do with fidelity. These hurdles also impact at-risk students as resources are not readily available, and sustainable programming is limited.
Originally Published: eSchoolNews