During the last decade, the education sector has witnessed many changes, leading to fresh challenges for modern educators, including principals leading schools. A 2018 survey from the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) showed that “student mental health” was the top concern for the 898 principals polled. Issues like emotional bullying, plus student worries over self-identity, were also ranked in the top 10 problems, with social media a contributing factor.
NAESP conducts this survey every 10 years, and there are noteworthy differences between the 2018 and 2008 results. In 2008, the social-emotional needs of students did not rank in the top 10 concerns.
Add those social-emotional needs to the growing presence of technology in classrooms and sweeping adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, today’s principals face unprecedented obstacles when creating a stable educational environment for teachers, students and parents.
At Norfolk State University, a Master of Arts in Urban Education with a Concentration in Principal Preparation provides necessary skills for today’s climate, including culturally responsive and equitable practices, better evaluation and development techniques and the ability to investigate and interpret school data.
Culturally Responsive Leadership
Educators everywhere are developing a greater appreciation of the many variables that can affect different students across cultures, especially those among groups that have been historically marginalized, such as students of color or LGBTQ+ youth. As a 2021 survey from Edutopia says, “Traditionally, we look for success in the aggregate, but real improvement comes in leaving no one behind.”
As principals better understand the influences on student behavior, they can better diagnose the causes of any issues and create an environment that addresses the needs of all students.
The same Edutopia post notes that thinking about the so-called margins can reap unexpected benefits for the entire student group. For example, making specific accommodations for learners struggling with literacy could “uncover other barriers to learning that when fixed could benefit additional students.”
Effective Goal Setting and Steps for Achievement
Educators are well acquainted with the time constraints of their jobs and the responsibilities they carry out each day. This effort is one of the primary reasons some leaders suggest a “less is more” approach when setting achievement goals, according to Edutopia: “In a time when so much feels urgent, it is critical for administrators to narrow their school’s focus to two or three concrete, schoolwide goals that give them the highest leverage to serve students.”
Establishing a narrow focus on a few goals helps to concentrate limited time and energy resources and aim them at specific objectives, with the idea that those objectives will remain in motion and staff can build momentum toward achieving them.
Offering specific steps to accomplish those goals, which includes, “(spending) time finding or creating exemplary planning processes, lessons, and tactics that will actualize that goal,” is a crucial way principals help school communities gain a sense of direction.
Data Interpretation and Application Skills
The ability to collect, process and display large volumes of data has introduced a host of new information to the educational sector. The more sophisticated data tools become, the more new information can be dissected and revealed.
As with any type of information, one must become literate in order to properly understand, read and collect takeaways from the data. However, as the collectors of such data, principals and other education leaders must devise methods to investigate, collect and classify the data — even before analyzing and reporting on it.
Dynamic Professional Development and Evaluation
In multiple NAESP surveys during the last four years, a majority of principals have indicated that there is a need for increased professional development or that they faced obstacles in furthering their professional development. According to a 2020 report from NAESP, the most common causes preventing continued professional development were time constraints, insufficient coverage or lack of funds.
These are unfortunate realities of the education profession, making it all the more critical for leaders to be efficient, compassionate and pointed in their evaluation and development of educators. Administrators should learn to make substantive use of their time and interactions with teachers by engaging in frank discussions, providing constructive feedback and fostering meaningful dialogue.