3 Ways Principals Can Motivate Students
The common platitude, "There are no bad students, only bad teachers," is passed around conversations about education with ease. It's unlikely that teachers are too fond of this quote, though they do appreciate its meaning nevertheless. Teachers work hard to motivate students. But what we don't hear enough is how principals motivate students.
Principals are the highest authority in their respective educational institutions. Although they often suffer from constraints by being more present in offices than in classrooms, principals do play a crucial role in the education of our children. Before any teacher is subjected to another casual critique, perhaps principals should ask themselves how they can be better principals to their students.
Admittedly, it is not easy to motivate students as a principal. Despite being in school, principals are hardly ever in classrooms. This lack of face-to-face interaction means it's even more important to promote student engagement with the work, the school and the people who make it a positive space. Here are three ways for principals to motivate students.
1. Set Goals for Your School
Before your school can improve, you must have a model of what improvements you want to make. A goal needs to be set to reach it. You also need a collective interest in reaching that goal. This means teachers and students wish for improvement as well and are prepared for that result. Teachers willing to engage in open communication and make suggestions are more likely to follow the direction set by you, the principal.
Build Teams and Encourage Teamwork
Goals exist on different levels — school-wide, team-wide and individually. While your school-wide goal is to motivate students and improve student achievement, and individuals are generally inclined to set their own goals, many may not realize the importance of working in teams. Building teacher teams ensures that all teachers respect and understand all students as well as their coworkers. Once individuals are organized into teams, they implement a school-wide plan for student improvement.
The schools in which faculty had a positive view of the school principal but no overarching triumphs were made, had a pattern in which improvement implicated individuals rather than being applied systematically. A teacher or teacher team may have received professional development or learned a useful exercise for improvement but unless this knowledge was shared across the school, its results were ineffective. Sharing responsibility in student progress emphasizes a mutual set of agreements and implicit norms amongst staff. An equal investment in a collaborative goal maintains a sense of community and spirit.
Know the Purpose of Your Goals
Using teachers' meeting times for a pre-determined purpose was found to be a productive way of encouraging teacher leadership and imposing goals. One way to use this time intentionally is by monitoring and tracking student progress. Various types of data can include behavior, school attendance, grades, student work, test scores and other school assignments. You can observe data per individual student and per student group, whether organized by department or teacher.
Once you've collected this data, discuss with your teachers how you can build support systems based on the data. Sharing ideas allows any professional development or new discoveries to help students throughout the school.
Monitoring the progress of teachers was similarly constructive. This made coordinating and guiding teacher teams deliberate and dually focused.
As a leader, you're responsible for implementing student incentive program ideas to ensure you meet your goals as well as ensuring your teachers have the time and metrics to work toward these goals. Setting goals is futile if nobody follows your lead.
Support Your Students and Teachers
After setting a common goal, support your teams as they work toward their goals. Historically, school principals have been seen as more managerial than truly participatory in students' academic achievement. Only 20 years ago, student success was reserved for those thought to be college-bound. Average students could expect entry-level manufacturing work, and dropouts were destined for low-level menial employment.
Two realizations shifted that worldview. The first is that the global economy relies on a strong educational foundation for career success. The higher achieving students are academically, the more likely they are to succeed in their careers, whatever those careers are. Secondly, the common standard for academic success was largely based on the advantages individual students had. Research shows that having high expectations for every student is central to narrowing the achievement gap between those less advantaged and those more advantaged.
Your attitude as a principal will reflect the attitude of your faculty. Thinking that every student is capable of high achievement will allow teachers to think the same.
2. Develop Your Teachers
The roles of a principal are multifaceted. On average, a principal spends 30% of the school day on administrative tasks, 20% on organizational responsibilities, 20% on external and internal affairs, and the last 30% on miscellaneous tasks. Finding time to engage with your teachers in a constructive manner is difficult, but it's worth the effort.
Emotional intelligence in a leader is directly correlated with a decrease in stress and an increase in performance and optimistic attitudes among laborers. At a school, this means that your genuine interest in the well-being of your teachers can actually boost their well-being. Your exercises in engagement start with merely empathizing with those around you and bolstering their vocational growth.
The most effective school leaders look to enrich classroom instruction rather than purely focusing their attention on managerial tasks. Teachers will always have more opportunities to engage with students. This is why principals are equipped with the tools necessary to make those interactions meaningful and above all, educational. To do this, you must equip your teachers with certain tools as well. Lead the way in drafting the programming that will enhance your teachers' abilities.
Stimulate Your Teachers Intellectually
Develop people intellectually first. Professional development is one of the most well-known routes for this, but there are certainly different courses of action. You can lead a field trip with faculty members to high-performing schools. You can encourage teachers to attend conferences related to their respective departments. You can facilitate critical study groups to work on teachers' lesson plans. An elementary school in Wisconsin, for instance, started a book club. They sought to elect books that dealt with topics like race and student performance. Topics like these have a direct correlation to the outstanding issue of closing the achievement gap. Take part in these activities as much as possible. Every effort should be truly collaborative, emphasizing that you are wholly invested in seeing their contributions.
Coach Your Teachers to Success
A more hands-on approach to development is seeking out coaches. Coaches aren't just for physical education classes. The root of many professional development programs is a math or literacy coach. Designing and supporting instructional coaching for teachers is key to meeting your goals for student achievement. The immense demand placed on principals as instructional leaders demonstrates the importance of delegating some responsibilities to others. Teachers already have a clearly defined role in the classroom. Coaches, with your agency, can only augment their classroom success.
Teachers who have participated in more than 14 hours of out-of-classroom training manifested positive outcomes among students. Teachers with more than 30 hours of training over a year showed significantly larger gains.
Coaches will typically begin by outlining learning objectives, lesson plans and techniques for implementation such as measuring student success. Discussing these details will align the teachers' intent with the school-wide goals set by the principal. A coach serves as another symbol of leadership in this regard, except more academically adjacent to that of a teacher than a principal could even be. On a much smaller scale, the coaching process mirrors the ways in which you hope to motivate students.
Model Teachers Around Set Goals
The weight of asserting collective goals should not be downplayed. Likewise, we should not downplay the role of teachers in that goal. You already know that tracking teacher progress is just as essential as tracking student progress. Just like with students, watching teachers closely is more beneficial than not.
Designing a model for teachers can be inventive too. Peer observations where a teacher is observed by a more experienced colleague can lead to valuable feedback. Arranging debriefing sessions for teachers to have a cooperative outlet for their ideas and feelings after pivotal events will have everybody on the same page. Mentorships for new teachers assist them in understanding the structure of the school environment and offers them a sounding board for figuring out how to attain the school-wide goals that have been set.
3. Organize Your School to Meet You Halfway
Principals' main contribution to schools should be advocating for a secure learning environment. Setting goals and engaging with allied associates is imperative to motivating students, but it is inefficient if not backed up by a school climate that fosters growth.
The purest intentions of principals and teachers are sometimes foiled by how they choose to operate. For one, standardized testing regularly pressures teachers into adopting a drill-like mindset with students. Teachers are the bearers of information whereas the heads of students are simply receptacles for the information to be absorbed. Students never get the chance to convince their teachers that they have the capacity for deep understanding.
Good intentions are further diminished by financial motivations, which often make teachers and principals alike lose sight of what is really important— learning.
Strengthen Community Towards a Common Goal
Poor school performance is often blamed on students who are culturally and racially marginalized. However, being the administrator of an educational institution means your students' failures are your failures. Instead of blaming students for a less-than-optimal yearly review, take a personal interest and devise ways to improve the situation. Rather than just engaging those inside your school, look to parents and the local community for involvement and advice. You can only expect a student to be invested if you're invested in them.
As principal, much of the feedback you offer parents about their children is negative. Creating parent engagement programs can help counter this effect. Hold welcome parties at the beginning of the school year and give families a chance to introduce themselves and meet each other. Allow parents to volunteer at school events and interact with students. Connect with families one-on-one, regularly and outside of PTA meetings. Students who are low-performing usually have some justification. Getting to know the family of your students will prepare you for some of the challenges their families are all too familiar with.
Modify the Status Quo to Make Things Work
A school's master schedule is defined by your creativity. We've established that using teachers' meeting time is a functional avenue for assessing and planning goals. But what if teachers' schedules don't match up ideally or at all? One of your responsibilities as a principal is to make certain nothing falls through the cracks. Change the school schedules or incentivize teachers to meet outside of school hours. Small changes can make a big difference in accomplishing your goals.
This sentiment is universally applicable. Your scheduling determines which teachers meet with which students, how long, and for what subjects. Trivial as it may seem, you play a critical role in how priorities are set for both students and teachers. Re-imagine the school with minor scheduling tweaks. Think five-minute shorter classes for a half-hour meditation session or longer but fewer classes each day for better retention rates among students.
Build Fully Integrated Support Systems
The most well-off schools when it comes to student achievement have systems of student support that were universal and opt-out rather than opt-in. Specifically, students were automatically enrolled in every program that was the least bit gainful. That way students had to decide for themselves to exit a program and deciding to enter a program was never an option. You should never leave it up to students to seek out support.
For example, an advisory program should be mandatory, not optional. Students may struggle with confidence issues, academically and socially. But problematizing their behavior only pushes them away. It is likely that they do not have the language to define their issues, nor would they want to identify their issues as "issues" in the first place. Regular advisory sessions can better the welfare of all students without singling out any one person. Remember your duty as principal is to hold everybody to the same expectations.
The Second Step in Leadership
Making the effort to improve student achievement through learning diverse channels of school refinement is the first step in creating a better school for everybody. The next step is a practical and effective application. That application should be humble enough that it is available to all students but at the same time meaningful enough to make a constructive difference.
We know that school climate has the largest impact on student performance. Organization plays a big part in advocating for an environment conducive to learning. One of the ways this can be gained is through a planner. This will encourage structure among students and enforce a system of staying focused. A planner for every student will be more pragmatic to students than you may think.
Set a goal for your students to write in their planners every day. Use it as a tool for teachers to maintain order in the classroom and engage collectively with your goal. Organize the school day so students have time to write down their assignments. What starts with writing down homework ends with creating purpose.
Success By Design endeavors to help students along with teachers by developing accessible and economical educational tools. Since 1988, our planners have advocated for skills that are crucial in student development like planning and organization. Besides scheduling, we take the insight of professional educators and include them in our assignment pads. The change that it affects is not just educational, but life-changing.
As a principal, you know that education is more than just academia. Education is about changing lives, and it always has been. We have the same mission and our planners are vital towards that goal. Take an invested look at what we have available and start planning how you're going to change lives.