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Principals: 5 leadership must-haves for a more zen end of the year

With so much uncertainty, how can school administrators stay focused on student success and end the school year with a sense of calm? Our contributor Marc-André Girard answers the question.

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With so much uncertainty in the air, how can principals stay focused on student success and end the school year feeling more relaxed?

1- Taking care of your team members

This will have been repeated ad nauseam since the beginning of the pandemic: caring must guide all teachers' actions and decisions. It should certainly guide the actions of school leaders as well. Indeed, logic dictates that a happy team is more motivated. This motivation not only creates enthusiasm for the work, but also shows up in the students. 

The key is a happy mix of openness, listening, tolerance and altruism. It's not rocket science, you may say, but in the end, isn't that what we expect from our own teachers towards our students?

2- Focus on student success

Principals can contribute to student success by being actively engaged in the development of the professional skills and teaching practices of their school team. When it is understood and perceived that every decision the principal makes is aimed at ensuring the success of every student, the tone is set and teachers know that the principal is always their ally in this critical process.

3- Focus on continuous training for all

One of the ways in which management is concerned with the development of the professional skills of its school team is to collaborate in its ongoing training. This opens up new professional horizons and sometimes even makes them aware of the power to act that each of them holds on a daily basis. The case of classroom management is a good example.

However, it is pointless to advocate for the ongoing development of your school team when you, as a principal, are not leading by example! The professional development of the principal is just as important. It ensures that you are equipped to deal with the new needs of students and their parents, as well as the challenges posed by daily school life. All of this, without neglecting the importance of understanding the subtleties of the laws and various regulations that apply to the school.

4- Cultivate the bond of trust with teachers

It has been shown by Balyer (2017) that to exercise pedagogical leadership, one must have the trust of one's team and that to enjoy this trust, one must primarily demonstrate consistency in one's duties. Indeed, staff engagement as well as their "job performance" would be directly influenced by the degree of trust they have in the leadership, in addition to directly influencing the organizational climate of the institution (Daly, 2009; Balyer, 2017).

Three elements appear to be essential for building this confidence among teachers:

  1. Act in the best interests of teachers: they must know and understand that decisions are made to make their jobs easier and to ensure the success of all students;
  2. Keeping promises: when a principal commits to something, he or she must keep his or her word. For example, an annual goal set at the beginning of the school year should be met;
  3. Intervene in a consistent manner, regardless of who you are talking to (teacher, student, parent, etc.): posture, discourse and decisions should always be the same.

5- Sharing leadership

The principal must trust his or her team and clarify the roles expected of everyone so that everyone can take an active part in the day-to-day activities of the school, in all areas.

Leadership is not the prerogative of the principal and, in a perspective of shared leadership, measures must be taken to decentralize certain decisions, certain initiatives related to school organization, school life, student success, etc. In addition, decentralized leadership allows teachers to better exercise their professional autonomy.

Instructional leadership is a form of power that allows one to put oneself into action for the benefit of student success. Ultimately, the principal is exercising power over herself: the power to move through the waves and pitfalls, while maintaining a zen-like mindset.  

References :
Balyer, A. (2017). Trust in School Principals: Teachers' Opinions. Journal of Education and Learning, 6(2). 317-325.
Daly, J. A. (2009). Rigid response in an age of accountability: the potential of leadership and trust. Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(2), 168-216.

About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in social studies education (1999), a master's degree in history education (2003), a master's degree in education management (2013) and a doctorate in education (2022). He specializes in school-based change management and educational leadership. He is also interested in the 21st century competencies to be developed in education. He is a principal in a public high school and gives conferences on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in schools and the professionalization of teaching. He has participated in educational expeditions in France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book "Le changement en milieu scolaire québécois" with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the 21st century school with the same publisher. He is a frequent contributor to L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and principals as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement. He is a recipient of the Régent-Fortin 2022 scholarship awarded by ADERAE for the significant contribution of his doctoral studies to the development of practice and knowledge in educational administration.

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