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School principals often balance a number of issues--here are some of the most common.

4 challenges facing school principals each year

Leading an entire school can be fraught with balancing acts—here are some of the challenges school principals must handle at once

In May 2019, 150 school principals from across the country participated in an edWeb survey on the topics, challenges, and accomplishments they experienced this year as the educational leaders in their buildings.

Some of the most significant challenges and successes were highlighted in a recent edWebinar, presented by Shannon Holden, principal of Pierce City High School (MO), and Dr. L. Robert Furman, principal, of South Park Elementary Center (PA).

Related content: Are you a principal or a New Learning Leader?

Interestingly, no matter what the topic, all surveyed school principals pointed to a universal message that school culture can either be a catalyst for student success or a roadblock to positive changes.

Four common challenges for school principals

1. One of the basic needs school principals strive to meet, and the one that presents the most challenge, is ensuring students feel safe in their school environment. In today’s world, school leaders and classroom teachers face increased physical and mental safety issues among their students.

Many students come to school having experienced trauma in their lives, and this trauma presents itself as self-harm, violence towards others, and depression or anxiety. School leaders must build a culture that manifests itself as a positive, safe learning environment. Focusing on the mental well-being of students provides a supportive environment that has seen higher graduation rates, increased engagement, and reduced mental health issues for students.

2. The challenge of student discipline and student motivation is a battle of “will vs. skills” when students have the skills to complete assignments or perform well on tests, but lack the motivation or the will to be successful. Once again, tying back to positive school culture, if students are feeling positive about coming to school and know that people care about them, they seem to want to perform.

Principals stress that they need to put time into building relationships and giving students ownership in the school. It is critical to keep students at the forefront when making decisions and changes. It’s also necessary to recognize that what’s best for students is more important than what is convenient for staff. By increasing the effectiveness of student voice and talking with individual students to get them to “see the light,” school leaders have witnessed students turning their academic failure into academic achievement.

3. The combined task of refereeing conflicts between staff and maintaining a positive climate that benefits students is another common challenge for school principals. Balancing learning while maintaining support from the staff is a struggle when school principals deal with the traditional ways “things” are done, while trying to make much-needed changes. When teachers feel valued, supported, and safe, the impact results in teacher collaboration, higher engagement, and staff retention. Most importantly, teachers develop innovative practices that ensure learning environments are best for students. It is important to remember to keep the school environment upbeat and positive by giving changes time to be implemented, along with being strong enough to recognize when something is not working and when to get it off the table.

4. Time constraints and lack of funding are obstacles for building principals when trying to manage a building, supervising staff, and leading the school and district vision. Having time and enough staff is critical to effectively encourage and coach teachers to do the initiatives principals want to do with fidelity. These hurdles also have an impact on at-risk students as resources are not readily available, and sustainable programming is limited.

About the presenter

Dr. L. Robert Furman is an educator, leader, principal, student, speaker, and published author. As a former teacher and now administrator, Dr. Rob serves in the foreground of everyday education. Currently, Dr. Rob serves as Principal at South Park Elementary Center outside of Pittsburgh, PA, and has become a sought-after leader in topics surrounding the field of education today. Dr. Rob is the author of several books including Reading, Technology, and Digital Literacy and the ISTE bestselling title Are You Future Ready. Beyond speaking at venues across the country, Dr. Rob is also a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post as well as the Ed Tech Review. Rob also hosts a well-known YouTube educational video blog called The Seditionists and educational podcast called the Council on the Future of Education. Further, he has received several prestigious awards, such as being named in the National School Board Association’s “20 To Watch” in technology education and a Pittsburgh Tribune Review News Maker of the year.

About the host

Shannon Holden, Principal at Pierce City High School in Missouri, is the TechTools for the Classroom, Teacher HELP!, and Principal Leadership edWebinar and community host. Shannon served as an assistant principal for 20 years in Texas and Missouri, has taught high school history and math, and was an online instructor at the university level. Shannon presents frequently to teachers and administrators about classroom management, maintaining positive relationships with parents, instructional strategies that engage students, and implementing technology in the classroom.

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Principal Leadership is a free professional learning community on that supports K-12 building principals by promoting connection, communication, and collaboration in the betterment of their schools.

This broadcast was hosted by The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

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