School leaders experience many challenges that must be addressed, including making difficult choices based on budget cuts and the reality of not having enough resources to meet the diverse learning needs of all students. As a result, it’s easy for school leaders to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Now more than ever, we need to double down on our efforts to strengthen the school year.
The unfortunate truth is that some schools were underperforming before the pandemic, and school closure for the past two years has negatively impacted some students who were already performing below grade level in reading or math. Schools designated as low-performing or persistently failing have students who may not be able to mitigate the significant amount of learning loss because they are now multiple grade levels behind their same-aged peers.
Let’s examine a few research-proven strategies you may want to consider when planning for long-term student achievement success.
Be open and honest about the brutal facts.
Confronting the brutal facts can be overwhelming and frustrating! When you think about challenges such as insufficient funding, teacher retention, lack of professional resources and teacher support, office referrals at an all-time high, social-emotional and mental health issues, and school violence. We can’t escape these brutal facts any more than we can escape gravity. Until we embrace them and begin working toward solutions, nothing will change, and students will not reach their full potential.
Be prepared for those difficult conversations
Be prepared for those difficult conversations.
You’re going to have them! To be a great leader, you must know how to handle difficult conversations. You will face parents who are upset about their child’s progress in school or teachers who are frustrated about the lack of resources and support that may not be available at your school.
School leaders must always bring calming energy in the midst of a storm, and you must actively listen, summarize what you heard, and engage in a collaborative, solution-focused conversation. This approach provides an opportunity for each person to voice their concerns and know that you are interested in a win-win solution that is in the best interest of your school community.
Being proactive and prepared for difficult conversations. This means you should have a toolbox with prevention and intervention strategies. You must be prepared to respond appropriately when a person approaches you with an issue they feel strongly about – especially when it seems unreasonable – there isn’t any room left open for ambiguity or confusion on either side of that conversation.”
Build, support, and empower your team. Teaching is the most demanding job out there.
In a school, the teachers are a critical component of your student’s success. Teachers interact with their students daily for extended periods of time and must have a growth mindset, positive attitude, and belief that all students can learn at proficient and advanced levels.
To achieve success in any team environment, you must build trust among team members and create an environment that supports professional growth and learning opportunities that address the needs of your staff and students.
It’s important for you to take the time to connect with each of your staff members on a personal level. It may sound rudimentary, but it can make all the difference when you want to retain highly effective teachers willing to go the distance for their students and school community.
Highly effective school leaders that get results are approachable, open to constructive feedback, willing to change the things that may not be working, embrace change and effectively communicate the need for change to improve teaching and learning —and it’s also essential that you are able to lead by example when it comes time for staff meetings or other gatherings where everyone is present.
Define what excellence looks like in your school
In schools, there is often a lack of clarity about what excellence should look like and sound like in all classrooms. Some teachers may not know what they should strive for with their students and how they will know when they’ve achieved it. It can also lead to confusion among students about what is expected of them and how others around them can help them achieve those expectations.
This year, you should begin a series of staff meetings that focus on helping your staff think about what it means for your school to be excellent. Ask questions like:
- What does excellence look and sound like in our school?
- How do we ensure that our students learn the importance of a strong work ethic, integrity, creativity, respect for others’ opinions, and kindness?
School leaders must ensure that the school environment is conducive to learning and, that all students feel included safe, and know that the adults are there to support them on their learning pathways to success.
Be present and regularly involved in your classrooms.
As a leader, you must be present.
Your presence is what makes your school unique and successful. You must be visible and accessible to your students, staff, and community as much as possible. Conducting frequent walks through your building to establish positive relationships with staff and students will allow you to learn what’s happening in your hallways, classrooms, and school cafeteria.
Data tells the story, and you need to look beyond the numbers, which is why you must walk, wonder, notice and note what you see, hear and learn, which will reveal more than what you will learn in staff meetings, grade-level team meetings or meetings scheduled outside of school hours ever could!
There’s no doubt that school leadership is a challenging job. But it can be rewarding, too!
As we’ve seen in this article, there are many ways to start strong and keep your team engaged throughout the year. The key is being prepared—and not afraid to ask questions or seek help when needed. If you want more tips on how to lead your faculty and students with confidence, check out our other blog posts.