The American education system is undergoing rapid changes, growth, and even attacks. It feels like every month the government introduces a new piece of legislation to alter how schools operate. Public education is regularly attacked by media, politicians, and even the people who are supposed to be leading it. Additionally, school shootings are more frequent than ever, many states are experiencing severe teacher shortages, and all the while kids still need a strong education to succeed in this world. School leaders can have a tremendous impact on how schools adapt in turbulent times and to dramatic changes. The success of any education program depends on all its parts: teachers, support staff, facility personnel, etc. However, it’s strong school leaders who help all the parts work together and move the school in the right direction. Here’s why we need strong school leaders now more than ever.
Strong school leaders stand against attacks on our schools.
Back in April when Kentucky teachers held a strike and marched on the state capitol, elementary school principal Gerry Brooks marched along with them. Brooks has an entirely different contract than his staff of teachers. But unfair pay and working conditions for teachers affects him as well. A staff that feels beaten down and underappreciated hurts the school as a whole. Gerry Brooks stood in solidarity with his teachers to let them know that they have his support.
Principals are often the public representatives of their schools. They speak at the school board meetings. They talk to the media. Principals petition for the needs of their staff and students. In a country where the secretary of education has made it clear that she does not believe in public schools, school leaders are the voices to say that public schools are necessary. Principals point out the successes happening in schools and work toward creating more of that success.
They help keep our schools safe.
It’s always been a top priority for school leaders to ensure the safety of everyone in the building. However, with the rise in school shootings, this aspect of the job is extremely pertinent. Principals are reevaluating safety protocols and working with law enforcement to institute best practices. From finding budget money to install metal detectors to educating staff and students on new protocols, school leaders are constantly finding ways to increase school safety. Mary Anne Cooper, principal of Snow Hill Elementary in Snow Hill, Maryland, said, “It’s not if, but when. We need to be prepared. If something were to happen, we need to have plans in place.” This sense of urgency is needed in all school leaders.
They help schools innovate and adapt to an evolving world.
The very purpose of school has dramatically changed in recent years. The model of school where the primary purpose was to provide information and knowledge is obsolete. Highly qualified employees must have communication, critical thinking, creativity, and agency skills to succeed in the 21st century. One of the primary tasks of school leaders is to find curriculum, training, and teachers that teach these skills to students. Great leaders are finding the best technologies for their teachers and students to use. They are identifying innovative curriculum and strategies and introducing them to their staffs. We need school leaders who can still prepare students for high-stakes testing. However, they also need to foster learning environments that are relevant to the evolving world.
They are models for leaders in crisis.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas, in August of 2017, Robinson Elementary School was forced to close. Its 400 students had to relocate to two different schools. Paige Fernandez-Hohos became the principal at both schools. Having to lead staff and students at two locations and working double duty during a busy and stressful crisis was not in the job description when Fernandez-Hohos accepted her role as principal. But she accepted this new task without complaint because of her conviction that “no matter what ZIP code a kid lives in, they’re all entitled to a high-quality education.” She decorated vacant hallways to brighten a dark time for students. Principal Fernandez-Hohos led her staff to transform empty gyms into cozy classroom spaces to accommodate every student in her school.
She and her staff live by the mantra of caring for every kid. Strong school leaders model this leadership to the teachers, support staff, and students they work with. In calm moments and in times of crisis, which have been happening frequently in the past few years, school leaders have to model what capable, selfless, and enduring leadership looks like.
Principals, assistant principals, and deans aren’t the only leaders in a school. However, if they are strong and competent ones themselves, it’s more likely that everyone else in the building will be one as well.
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Plus check out 9 Qualities the Most Admired School Leaders Share.