- Stepping back into the classroom during a challenging year helped Jessica Cabeen, principal of Ellis Middle School in Austin, Minnesota, further empathize with teachers struggling through a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid teaching models while also becoming better connected with students, she writes for Edutopia.
- The students, who seemed more comfortable with her when she was in her teacher role, gave feedback on things like the way she communicated school announcements, leading her to begin posting morning announcements via an Instagram video. And through remote learning, she also gained a better understanding of students' home and family lives.
- Listening is key to empathy, Cabeen wrote, noting that in the last weeks of school, she took time to listen to teachers, staff, students and families about what did and didn’t work during the pandemic-disrupted school year.
While most principals have spent time as teachers at some point, there is value in remaining closely connected to the classroom. At the Weilenmann School of Discovery, a charter school outside of Salt Lake City, administrators continue to spend time teaching students, which lets them “walk the walk,” according to an Edutopia article.
Utilizing this approach can help administrators build credibility and leadership. School community also benefits when teachers can see the vulnerability in their leaders, who in turn are maintaining firsthand experience of how their decisions impact the classroom.
In recent years, principals' roles have also increasingly shifted to that of being an instructional leader. Some states and districts have explored ways to improve administrators' bandwidth as they take on these increasingly complex roles. This has included revising principal standards and evaluations, creating additional administrative positions to oversee non-instructional duties, and strengthening the roles of principal supervisors, whose own roles have seen adjustments.
For example, a report from Vanderbilt University and Mathematica Policy Research tracking six urban districts participating in the four-year, $24 million Wallace Foundation Principal Supervisor Initiative found that those school systems revised job descriptions, dropped the number of principals assigned to supervisors and provided training to allow the district-level leaders to be successful in their new roles.