Beyond Your School: Principals foster school spirit, unite community through involvement
A principal’s role goes beyond school walls. Principals encourage high levels of academic achievement, maintain facility operations, enforce discipline and foster effective communication between faculty and parents. Principals establish a positive school culture that promotes relationships between students, parents, faculty and the community as a whole. And, building solid relationships serves to promote an effective learning environment.
Students across the country often face similar barriers to academic success in and out of the classroom, including socioeconomic status, lack of parental involvement, language barriers, under-qualified teachers and more. These challenges do not have to limit a student’s potential. A principal helps eliminate these barriers to promote academic success and achievement.
A positive educational environment can set the tone for a productive school year and helps to foster a fun learning culture at your school. George Couros, principal and blogger for The Principal of Change, believes in the power of fostering effective relationships with students as a way to bolster your school’s performance.
Couros believes having a regular presence in a child’s school day can help build effective relationships. Make yourself visible to students on a regular basis by welcoming them in the morning when they arrive at school and being outside when they leave for the day. Walk the halls and stop in on classrooms throughout the day. These interactions, while sometimes limited, serve as an important opportunity to be present in a student’s school day so that they recognize you and can feel comfortable around you.
Another key to connecting with students is to take the time to genuinely get to know them. One of a principal’s more obvious roles is disciplinarian, but that should not be the only way students view you. Learn students’ names, meet their parents and learn more about their background to connect on a personal level to show them you are invested in their academic success.
Parents play a complementary role in student success. Principals should view parents as a partner in education and work to encourage them to take an active role in their child’s education. Parental involvement can bolster academic achievement, whether helping with homework to provide additional academic support or serving as a classroom volunteer and attending parent-teacher conferences.
Shirley Igo, former President of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), defines parent involvement as “the participation of parents in regular, two-way and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities.” Principals who seek engaged parents should consider Igo’s suggestions for maximizing parent involvement, including:
- Provide parents with a variety of opportunities to become involved in their child’s education, classroom and school.
- Give parents the resources, tools and support to help them prepare their child for annual testing.
- Ensure parents understand their child’s progress assessments and report cards.
- Make sure parents are aware of available academic support services for their child.
A 2003 analysis of more than 25 public opinion surveys conducted by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan public opinion research organization, found that 65 percent of teachers believed their students would perform better in the classroom if parents played a more active role in education. However, parents are sometimes unaware of what role they can play in the classroom. Two-way communication absence is often among the top barrier to parental involvement. Schools often get information and communication to parents effectively but the communication pathway back to the teacher is often blurred. Principals should implement communication structures that facilitate real-time feedback from parents.
Schools must provide parents with resources and tools to support their child’s academic endeavors to have effective parental involvement. Studies continuously support the positive effects of parental involvement in a child’s overall academic results. A 2005 study found parent-child reading activities produced significant improvements in a child’s language and reading skills throughout their educational career.
Principals must consider their school’s needs in relation to overall mission to maximize parental involvement. Be flexible to account for parent’s time constraints. Set up volunteer opportunities before and after school hours that allow working parents to contribute. Make your parents feel valued and welcomed at the school. Maintaining parental involvement requires principals to be engaged in the school community and aware of their school’s needs.
Building Community Support for a Successful School Year
Your school and your community are integrally linked. Schools are the youth’s center for learning. Schools employ residents and connect community members with one another. According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), principals “must engage the entire community in conversations and decisions about the school.” Your school is a representation of the community. The Iowa School Boards Foundation identified benefits of a strong community partnership, including:
- Improved school leadership and staffing
- Higher-quality learning programs for students
- New resources and programs to improve teaching and curriculum
- Resources for after-school programs
- Upgraded school facilities
- Increased social and political capital
A principal’s role is community leader, business manager, mentor and friend. Successful principals are able to wear many hats and tackle vast responsibilities while maintaining focus on student achievement.
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