Affective School Leadership Priorities of the Pandemic Principal
By Jamie Bricker
All educational stakeholders are understandably stressed. The pandemic continues to have a huge impact on all of our daily lives and there is seemingly no end in sight. The associated anxiety and uncertainty engulfing teachers, students, and parents alike ultimately ends up at the administrator’s door. With all of these human elements very much in play now, more than ever, educational leaders must focus on providing affective leadership.
Affective administrators prioritize caring relationships with all stakeholders and recognize, respect, and respond to people’s feelings, attitudes, and emotions. They rely on relational authority far more than positional authority, as they make a concerted effort to really get to know people. As such, they recognize, respect, and respond to people’s feelings, attitudes, and emotions. In these pandemic times, with so many present and future unknowns and so many fears and uncertainties, it is imperative for leaders to reach out and make an emotional connection.
Being an affective administrator inspires long-term commitment from people, rather than simply short-term compliance. Placing an extra focus on relationships during this unprecedented school year will help establish a mutual trust among administration, staff, and parents that will hopefully continue to strengthen throughout the pandemic and for many years to come.
During these very unsettled times, there are some key fundamental steps affective administrators should follow to help alleviate a lot of understandable anxiety among stakeholders, and to help lay the foundation for as positive and productive a school year as possible.
Provide Accurate Information
Quite understandably, many educational stakeholders have been very anxious about this fall’s return to school plans. Regardless of the depth and breadth of a given plan, it cannot possibly address every eventuality, nor every possible concern. It is therefore incumbent on school leaders to be both factual and flexible, as people need both accurate information and adaptable administrators.
During this ever-evolving school year, all stakeholders need, and deserve, to be made aware of all relevant information on a regular basis, to ensure they are as informed and prepared as possible.
Project Realistic Optimism
With so many people feeling stressed and uneasy, school leaders must make a concerted effort to stay positive and upbeat. Affective leaders offer hope and optimism that better days are ahead, and correlate optimism with opportunity. They consider positive outcomes to be largely within the school staff’s collective control, and they convey this attitude in all of their comments and actions.
The key is to routinely share an optimistic lens, without losing sight of reality. Overcompensating with over the top enthusiasm will undoubtedly come across as rather unsettling at best, and highly inappropriate at worst. By the same token, no one in the school community is going to respond well to a principal constantly presenting a defeated Eeyore type persona.
Set the Thermostat
Affective leaders make a point of being accessible leaders, as their open-door policy tells people that they matter. During these pandemic times, principals’ doors need to be open as much as possible. Administrators always serve as thermostats for the school community, and the impact of their role is all the more important these days. As thermostats, they must establish a calm, temperate climate within the school. This proactive mood setting is desperately needed these days, as it provides people with a sense of at least some comfort and control over such a potentially daunting situation.
People have been inundated with uncertainty in all aspects of their lives for the past six months. More so now than ever, they need, and deserve, stability and consistency in the work place. With all of the uncertainty presently engulfing schools, it’s essential for administrators to always convey a sense of calmness and consistency.
Facilitate Necessary Support
Over the past few months, we have all heard the quaint cliché that “we’re all in this together.” In reality, this pandemic has thrust many of us into a world of profound anxiety and isolation. It is incumbent upon administrators to make all staff feel validated, both personally and professionally, and to reassure them that they will be supported throughout all of the unknowns of the ongoing pandemic.
Administrators must always be looking out for students who are emotionally struggling upon their return to school, as well as monitoring parents and families who may desperately require additional help. With such limited parental access to the school building at this time, it is more important than ever for principals to reach out as much as possible to make sure all stakeholders are aware of the supports available.
Embrace Silver Linings
The pandemic has necessitated countless changes to many aspects of everyday life, clearly including the entire educational experience. Change is always challenging, and many of these imposed changes to school protocols and procedures have further heightened stakeholders’ already elevated stress and anxiety levels.
Safely guiding and supporting all stakeholders through these changes has to be at the top of the administrator’s list. After all, physical, mental and emotional health must be in place before sustainable learning is even viable.
There may, however, be some very definite silver linings that will unexpectedly arise from all of the necessary pandemic related measures. It’s important for affective administrators to recognize and evaluate all such measures, and then work with staff to consider their potential long-term benefits:
- Working together on return to school protocols will strengthen relationships among all stakeholders.
- Very natural opportunity to re-evaluate the system’s response to mental health issues, both at the school and district level.
- With schools functioning in such a challenging and fluid environment, all stakeholders will have routine opportunities to strengthen their resiliency skills.
- Mandated changes to daily operating procedures will undoubtedly trigger a review of some long-standing practices.
- With significant cohorts of students working remotely for at least some portion of the school year, the overall technology plan at both the school and district level will get re-examined.
- For years, schools have been prioritizing authentic learning opportunities, and nothing can be more authentic than living and learning through a pandemic.
- Experts maintain that 21st Century learning needs to revolve around the 4 Cs – critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Current back to school plans will afford students many authentic opportunities to further develop each of these 4 Cs.
- The realization that the pandemic has affected diverse groups differently and inequitably will lead schools and districts to re-examine how such groups are supported.
This is the first article in a monthly series on the impact of Affective Leadership in the school system. Affective leadership is all about working with people, rather than trying to work through them or simply going around them. All stakeholders become far more invested in the school when they feel genuinely valued, respected, and heard by administration. The pandemic has immeasurably heightened this need for connectivity.
About the author
Jamie Bricker is a published author and international speaker. As a retired school principal, he has long been a strong advocate of affective leadership and has experienced its profound impact. He is also co-host of two podcasts, including Affective Leadership – Positivity Promotes Productivity. Jamie can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at www.jamiebricker.com.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum