The major principle applied for selecting a principal for a school is the personal motivation of an individual and their strong determination to achieve success in managing and improving the school they work in (The Wallace Foundation, 2012, p.8). Due to this reason, I assume that my trainee student is not going to give up after the first problems she faced and that she is eager to gain new skills to be able to deal with similar issues in the future. That is why, I think that the best way to start my conversation is to share my own early experience, pointing out that every trainee has to learn from real life situations, and that it will probably take years before the automaticity in organizing various aspects of work occurs. Indeed, recent studies show that a principal “should be in place about five to seven years in order to have a beneficial impact on a school” (The Wallace Foundation, 2011, p.12). Therefore, she should perceive the issues that happened during my absence not as her personal failure, but as the first steps towards high professionalism.
Besides setting a proper motivation, I would have to discuss each case in particular. However, my task is not just finding solutions for the present three situations, but also helping the trainee to develop effective strategies which could be applied in the future, in case some similar problems occur. In addition, it is crucial to develop the leadership skills in the student, so that she would not lack confidence in such cases.
The first instance that brought about stress at the principal’s office was when a student came there after a teacher sent her out of the room for being disruptive. The first thing that needs to be done while working out the issues concerning students is building a proper hierarchy. For instance, I would remind my trainee that a principal’s aim is to organize the educational establishment, including teachers who work there; a teacher’s aim, in turn, is organizing students and lessons. However, both the principal and the teachers work towards one purpose, which is providing the school students with qualitative education. Therefore, a principal should keep in mind that, despite her position, she should be a supportive partner for the teacher (IEL, 2008, p.7). Understanding of this will help the principal to resist the temptation of taking the student’s side and expressing a total disapproval of the teacher’s actions, even if she does have any doubts about the teacher’s objectivity. However, the student’s point of view should not be devalued.
Undoubtedly, having a student come into a principle office is not a pleasant event, and it is likely to cause some misunderstandings or negative emotions. However, when a dubious situation occurs, it is significant to remember that a principal is a respected authority, whom the school workers and students trust their problems. Thus, a principal should always be confident and calm; moreover, she should be skillful at managing her emotions. In order to understand the both parties of a conflict (the teacher and the student), the principal can use the technique offered by the State of Victoria (2009). For instance, the authors suggest asking oneself the following questions: “What information am I missing that would help me understand this person’s behavior? What pressures are they under?” (p. 29). This technique will help the principal to analyze the situation and find out that when a student comes to a principal’s office, she probably had a strong emotional impulse, which can be a feeling of offense, anger or VOZMUSHENIE. At the same time, the teacher is also under the pressure of the class organization and of a particular student’s behavior. Being open and diplomatic will allow the principal to help the student manage her emotions and find a proper solution.
The specificity of the situation when students are sent out of the class lies in the fact that a student seldom feels responsible for their misbehavior. According to Lewis (2008), the most effective way of making the students feel responsible for their own actions is to explain them why they are sent out (p. 76). In our particular case, the principal should have a supportive conversation with a teacher, advising on how to use rational arguments and facts to explain the student in what ways his or her behavior influences the effectiveness of the class. If carried correctly, such conversation can raise the students’ awareness and help them realize that their punishment is fair. In addition, I would mention that in such cases it is reasonable to help the student design the model of a more respective behavior for the future.
Another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration is the class organization. The study carried by Lewis (2008) indicates the major techniques a teacher can use in order to avoid disruption, such as switching activities, avoiding repetitive topics, etc (p. 58). The principal has to make sure the teacher knows how to keep the students in tune, but she has to talk about this aspect in a delicate manner, never meaning to question the effectiveness of the teacher’s methods. In any case, the principal has to remember that it is important to encourage leadership in every teacher (The Wallace Foundation, 2011, p.13), and dealing with disruptive students is a part of it.
Another situation that bothered the trainee was when an irate parent called complaining about the excessive amount of homework assigned to their child a night before. Handling such complaints has more to do with conflict management than with finding a particular solution for a problem. A parent driven by negative emotions, such as anger, irritation or dissatisfaction is likely to express their feelings rather than make constructive decisions. That is why, the primary task of a principal is to show readiness to help and ability to find consensus. In fact, the teacher’s studying program and homework volume is a matter of one’s personal professionalism. On one hand, taking into consideration that one of the main principles is to never question the professionalism of the school workers, the principal should try to avoid participating in the conflict as the third party. On the other hand, it is unacceptable for the principal to refuse to deal with any kind of problem that occurred in her educational establishment, so I would definitely advice the trainee to be ready for being involved in the issues concerning the widest range of areas and of the most various degrees of difficulty.
If there were any clear instructions to be given to the trainee in case of receiving a telephone call from a parent, they would definitely include listening to the problem and showing understanding. The task of the principal is to reassure the parent that the issue that bothers them will definitely be solved. In the book devoted to addressing parents’ complaints, State of Victoria gives the following possible solutions: explanation, accepting differences, admission of fault, apology, change of policy or practice, and other (State of Victoria, 2009, p.9). The trainee could choose one of the mentioned remedies and offer them to a parent. In addition, the technique mentioned in the previous situation can be used. For instance, the principal can help the parent analyze the situation from the teacher’s point of view, focusing on the educational goals set by the teacher and his or her high qualification. This way the parent can realize that the particular amount of homework is rather understandable and arises from the school program, arranged by a group of professionals.
It is also extremely important for the trainee student to remember that while any problem can be solved in the long term, the main priority is to manage the parent’s irritation right away, in order to prevent the problem from growing into a greater conflict. In order to do this, the principal has to be skillful at forming positive sentences and logical arguments. For example, it is better to say “I hear some worry in your voice” than to ask “Why are you so nervous?” In fact, emotional support is sometimes more important than the solution itself.
With the growth of practice and gaining of experience, the trainee will find out that the complaints received by parents have a repetitive character. Therefore, it is rational for the school administration to “regularly review the record of complaints to identify common or recurring issues that may need to be addressed” (State of Victoria, 2009, p.14). At the same time, it is logical to assume that a teacher who works with a particular group of students knows the peculiarities of every student and their learning habits. Thus, the responsibility of dealing with some incidents connected to a particular student is to lie upon a concrete teacher (State of Victoria, 2009, p.14).
The last problem that occurred while the trainee was in charge of the school was the visit of a fire inspector who asked about the location of the safety manual for the school. Obviously, this problem has a very specific character, and personal leadership and management skills cannot help in this case. The principal needs to know the concrete requirements for school safety organization. Every school has a special department or persons responsible for the school safety precautions, which can be addressed in the similar situations. According to the State rules, every school is inspected one time every year by the Fire Station Personnel (Schools Insurance Authority, 2009, p.2). In addition, every state has a different Code of Regulations, which need to be taken as a basis for arranging the safety issues. According to these regulations, the school needs to develop an extensive safety manual, which would contain all the required sections, such as precautions for indoors and outdoors facilities, fire safety installations, requirements for various materials, etc.
In order to be able to address the concerns of this type, the trainee has to view the school as a complex infrastructure with a variety of departments, each responsible for a different area. At first it can seem hard to organize all the areas properly, but later the interaction of different sections will point to the fact that all the departments are equally significant.
As it can be seen, most of the problematic situations that occur in schools demand certain personal qualities to be solved, such as confidence and leadership skills, as well as high qualification and professional knowledge. Both the personal and professional skills demand practice to be developed, and that is what I would try to explain to my trainee, encouraging her to learn from every situation and never to be desperate. The best way to improve the trainee’s professional skills is sharing my own experience. In order to increase her self confidence and belief in her own power I would also use some psychological training sessions.
IEL (Institute for Educational Leadership) (2008). Teacher Leadership in High Schools: How principals encourage it, how teachers practice it. London: IEL.
Lewis, R (2008). The developmental management approach to classroom behaviour: Responding to individual needs. Camberwell, Vic: ACER Press.
Schools Insurance Authority (2009). School Fire & Life Safety. Sacramento, Ca: Schools Insurance Authority.
State of Victoria (2009). Addressing Parents’ Complaints Effectively: Policy and Guides. Office for Government School Education: Melbourne.
The Wallace Foundation (2011) The school principal as leader: Guiding schools to better teaching and learning. The Wallace Foundation: NY.
The Wallace Foundation (2012) The making of the principal: five lessons in leadership training. The Wallace Foundation: NY.