Education is always an unpredictable field, but the last several years have been particularly tumultuous for U.S. educators at all levels. From turmoil at community school board meetings to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting every aspect of learning, educators must deal with tremendous changes at a breakneck rate.
The effects of the pandemic have been profound for everyone involved in school systems. Principals have had to offer unprecedented levels of support to staff and students as school communities try to navigate the sea of changes.
The amount of learning loss for students has been enormous, according to an article published earlier this year from the Washington Post. The adjustment to remote learning, given the pandemic, was steep for schools across the country, leaving students of all ages behind. Teachers are seeing a drop in student performance, and existing inequities have worsened given the pandemic’s disproportionate effects on low-income communities. Given the diversity of the populations they serve, principals in urban environments have especially experienced these changes.
Staffing issues have also been significant. Many principals and teachers have left the profession or are planning to exit soon. Substitute teachers are proving more difficult to find, causing many districts to lower their certification requirements. Even aides and bus drivers have proven elusive. As a result, schools have to make seismic adjustments, and the burnout rate among faculty and staff has skyrocketed.
During such challenging and volatile times, having the right skills and knowledge to effectively manage situations and problem-solve is critical. An online graduate program like the Master of Arts in Urban Education with a concentration in Principal Preparation from Norfolk State University offers graduates the culturally responsive leadership skills necessary to empower students and staff, especially in the face of changes.
In any situation of change — big or small — the principal should take a positive attitude toward changes and do the best they can to foster similar attitudes among students and teachers. In a 2017 study on the effects of leadership during changes, the authors write a “principal’s change leadership is an influential factor in enhancing teacher attitudes toward change,” meaning principals help to set the tone for how a school community will receive changes.
Building a supportive, trusting school community also helps bolster people’s ability to cope with change. Having a sense of belonging and a strong peer support system can be extremely helpful for many. Principals can help cultivate these networks by managing relationships and creating a culture of respect in their schools.
By being proactive about anticipating potential changes, principals can make appropriate adjustments to their attitudes and policies and share those with their school community. For instance, according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), two of the biggest changes in principals’ job responsibilities were the need for crisis management abilities and social media communication.
The pandemic was profoundly difficult and sometimes dangerous for principals to tackle and knowing how to lead a community during a crisis has become a priority for principals moving forward. The NAESP writes that principals increasingly work with local emergency response organizations to develop crisis management strategies and plans, often drafting multiple options as a failsafe. Principals can bring this attitude into their schools and even instill the same skills into teachers and students.
Social media communication also became important for schools to communicate with large school populations quickly and efficiently. Developing a communication plan that could effectively reach everyone became critical to schools’ ability to function during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. These adjustments allowed principals to problem-solve and ensure the student population was not misdirected or uninformed about policy, school or community information.
By instilling a proactive, patient approach to the inevitable changes that schools see, principals can help lead their teachers and students through tumultuous periods.