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Improving School Leadership in Ten Easy Steps

Robert Frost, late American poet aptly said,  "education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or self-confidence".

Recently, the news media in a society that will remain unnamed reported that a male school principal was in a fight with a female student. Witnesses, however, reported that there were actually no blows thrown by the principal, in spite of his best efforts to box the student into oblivion. It was a super human effort by those who restrained the principal to keep him in check, as for a moment, he let his mask slip - the mask of being a decent, educated man, in charge of his faculties and who weilded much power - and became the man that the environment in which he grew up moulded, a base human being like many of us who does not turn the other cheek in the face of provocation.

It would seem that the student does not respect anyone or anything. She has a reputation for being unruly, foul mouthed, aggressive,  uncooperative, among the other negative behaviours that one  can think of. The principal, it is said, not knowing the reputation of this student, scolded her for some infraction of the rules. Her response aroused the ire of the principal who sought to have her immediately removed from the school compound. What happened at this point is unclear but the principal must have physically tried to escort her from the premises when the student slapped or pushed him away from her. The principal in a rage attempted to retaliate but was forcefully restrained.

One can imagine the excitement among the student body, as many of them broke free from their classrooms to witness the spectacle.

How could this situation have been avoided? I'm going to present ten tips to principals to help them to manage fraught situations in their schools.

  1. Allow the persons tasked with their specific responsibilities to do their jobs. If you give them time to do their jobs and they do not deliver, intervene. Apparently, the person in charge of discipline was trying to reason with the student, having known of her temperament. The principal, however, expected that as soon as he ordered the student removed from the campus, it should have been done and took matters into his own hands when it seemed that his order was being ignored. We know how that turned out.
  2. Get to know your staff and students. They are the ones who have the power to ensure that your tenure at your school is a smooth one. This principal, it is said, thinks that he has all the power and everyone in his sphere must unquestioningly do his bidding. Ask him how that is working out for him.
  3. Give staff members responsibilities and be prepared to guide them in the fulfillment of their responsibilities. Don't ever think that your job is separate from that of the rest of the school and lock yourself away in your office, not welcoming any intrusion, because everybody should know their job and do it. Principals, you must make it your business to develop a sense of the big picture where your school is concerned and this means regularly liaising with your staff.
  4. Include your staff members in decision making and give the impression that their opinions matter. If you do not, you'll be swimming against the tide all the time. And we know how tiring that is.
  5. Respect all of your staff and students. They deserve as much respect as you expect to get from them, for no other reason than the fact that they are human beings with emotions just like you. So, remember to be cordial to them as you interact with them on and off the school's compound. Again, the consequences of continual disrespect are not pretty. Our principal who prompted this post should have much to say on this subject, that is, if he has learnt anything about the subject from his interactions in his school community so far.
  6. Regularly involve yourself in meditation exercises,  yoga is a good start. However, you may choose any meditation activity that you prefer. You need to constantly de-stress, release the build up of angst that you are likely to accumulate during the school day, especially if you are tasked with managing a school labeled as being difficult. If you do not find legitimate ways to release the stress, you will explode, usually at the most inappropriate time. Our principal is a case in point.
  7.  Reflect. You must reflect on your stewardship in progress. That is, during every day and at the end of every day, you must identify what is going well and what is not going well, based on the reactions of the people on whom you bounce your ideas, opinions, plans and strategies. And after identifying the strengths and weaknesses, you must act on them. You will seek to enhance your strengths and minimise your weaknesses by taking appropriate action.
  8.  Don't do the same aggravating thing over and over and expect to get a different result. This is what Einstein, without adding the word aggravating, called insanity. If your leadership does not engender support from your staff after a couple of years, do not continue to lead in the same fashion and expect that the same school community that has been resistant to your endeavours for the past two years will suddenly jump on board. Be prepared to modify your leadership style as you carry out your job, based on the reaction that you get from those whom you lead.
  9. Remember that leading involves action, the example that you set. You can't expect to lead others when you're passive, when you do not chart any course for your followers, when you are not there physically or mentally. Craft a plan with the help of your staff and other stakeholders, devise strategies with their help to realise the plan and actively guide the process. Your staff will begin to see you in a new positive light. Our principal, well...
  10.  Rid yourself of your narcissistic tendencies. Everything is not about you. Yes, you have worked hard to achieve your place in the world. Congratulations! However, lend a hand to others right under your nose who are also trying to find their place in the world, instead of viewing them as threats to your achievements.
There are other tips that I could share with you - school principals, school administrators or school managers - whatever label you accept - but I'll leave it at this. Members of society expect principled leadership from you, in spite of all the challenges in the environment in which you work. You have accepted the job. You are the leader.  It's your duty to find ways to manage any difficulty that may arise during your stewardship. Be innovative,  be creative, lead!

And carefully think of Robert Frost's words! To what extent do you agree with his observation?

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My name is Janette Fuller. Welcome to my blog! You may learn about me here


  1. I love this Janette. I agree with you wholeheartedly. As a holistic health practitioner, educator an coach your points resonate with my very core. Thank you my friend.

    1. You're welcome, Jennifer. Glad you got some insights from this post.

  2. I love this Janette. I agree with you wholeheartedly. As a holistic health practitioner, educator an coach your points resonate with my very core. Thank you my friend.


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