How Principals’ Leadership Supports Safe School Environments

Discussions about school safety are dominating the news right now, and for good reason. Parents, teachers, students, school administrators, and the general public are increasingly concerned about how safe students and staff are in their schools. As the conversation focuses on a wide range of potential solutions to the problem, one aspect deserves much more attention: The impact principals can have on school safety.

We know from our years of experience with helping school leaders move out from under the daily crush of front-office operations and into classrooms that the mere presence of principals can change students’ behavior. Much like the effect a law enforcement officer can have when he or she comes on the scene, students usually become more compliant when a principal is in their midst. Research has made clear that those in authority have a powerful ability to influence others’ behavior. Such an impact can only be made when principals spend more time in the classroom—and The Breakthrough Coach methodology makes it possible.

The more often a principal is directly involved with teachers and students, the greater the opportunities are to identify struggling students and get them the resources they may urgently need. The Breakthrough Coach teaches ways to give principals two full days a week in the classroom, time that can be used to:

  1. gain insights into troubled students’ behavior
  2. become aware of and address rumors or speculation that may be spreading
  3. address issues before they become more difficult to resolve or even dangerous

Being fully present in the classroom also allows principals to observe teachers, become aware of what resources or additional development they may need, and support them with one-on-one coaching. All of this, too, can be a factor in improving school safety: When principals are present in the classroom, teachers and principals can work together to promptly address a troubled student’s emotional and social well-being. More time in the classroom gives principals the opportunity to cultivate a climate of trust among students and teachers, even while deepening their own authority and strengthening their positions of leadership.

As noted in this blog post about how the Lindsay Unified School District in California created system-wide transformation by implementing The Breakthrough Coach methodology, our philosophy is simple:

  1. Schools produce breakthrough results in student achievement when administrators spend two full days each week in classrooms training, developing and coaching teachers.
  2. In order for administrators to spend two full days each week in classrooms, they must train and empower their secretaries to run the front office.

The district’s superintendent, Tom Rooney, brought in The Breakthrough Coach to teach administrators how to get out of their offices and into classrooms for two days each week. Deputy Superintendent Lana Brown said that without time in classrooms, “The kids wouldn’t know us; the teachers wouldn’t know us. The time in classrooms gives us the opportunity to be visible and consciously engaged in what is going on throughout the district.”

Physical security measures such as metal detectors, guards, and locks inarguably make school buildings safer, but the leadership of principals is critical to creating a safe, healthy environment that plays a role in lessening the likelihood of violence. In a time of heightened awareness of the threat of violent behavior among students, the strong leadership of principals—and their increased presence in the classroom—must be part of the solution.