Characteristics of Effective School Leaders

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From the elementary to the secondary school level, administrators need much more than an advanced title to lead their institutions well. Instead, they must hone key traits that help them become successful department chairs, principals and headmasters.

Discover 10 of the most important characteristics of effective school leaders:

A teacher uses technology with two students.
Image via Flickr by Northern Ireland Executive

Serving as a Role Model

The most successful school administrators quickly learn that they cannot simply implement policies with the aim of effecting change. Instead, they must lead faculty, staff, and students by example. As Derrick Meador explains in ThoughtCo., effective school administrators should be prepared to arrive early, leave late, keep a level head at all times, and always let a sense of professionalism guide their actions and statements. By doing so, they’ll demonstrate positive, forward-thinking behavior to colleagues and students and serve as effective role models.

Radiating Positivity

Experienced administrators know that their schools need a sense of positivity and an optimistic atmosphere in order to thrive. However, the occasional compliment or positive public statement does not typically do enough to create the sort of goodwill that schools need to succeed. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development describes the most effective leaders as ones who are prepared to radiate positivity. Whether they are instructing students, interacting with teachers, or talking with community members, administrators should always promote positive statements and actions.

Having a Compelling Vision for the Future

While students, staff, and faculty depend on school administrators to offer day-to-day support and input, they also need a leader who has the ability to think ahead and plan for the future. As Meador makes clear, the most effective principals must have strong visions and know how to see them to fruition. For most school leaders, this means constantly evaluating progress and planning for advances. It also means building a determined faculty and staff team and a dedicated student body who also believe in the vision. Above all, it means never taking a break from improvement.

Demonstrating Resilience

Visionary school leaders understand that they may not be able to achieve every goal they have set. Even if they can, they may encounter countless obstacles along the path to success. For this reason, the most effective principals and administrators must master and demonstrate resilience. By doing so, they can navigate problems more quickly and model the benefits of adaptability for students, faculty, and staff.

Encouraging Inclusivity

The most successful administrators know that students should have no barriers to prevent them from learning. Those new to the field of education may be surprised to learn that school leaders have not always encouraged such an inclusive approach. As the Wallace Foundation explains in “The School Principal as Leader: Guiding Schools to Better Teaching and Learning,” over the past two decades, school principals’ responsibilities have come to focus on ensuring that all students — not only those from advantaged backgrounds — achieve the same level of success. For this reason, school leaders must ensure that all students are welcome and that each one can achieve the same high standards.

Maintaining High Expectations

To ensure that students achieve high standards, successful school leaders must maintain high expectations. Many of the best school principals establish challenging yet achievable goals, communicate their expectations clearly to students and faculty, and facilitate success as best as they can within their means. Principals’ ability to remain firm yet clear about their standards helps everyone involved understand what they should do to achieve objectives.

Emphasizing Professional Development

Successful administrators also maintain high expectations for the educators they oversee. However, they know that teachers can benefit from an advanced degree, such as a Master of Music in music education, along with additional opportunities for training and development in order to achieve the most challenging objectives they have set. As Nick Morrison writes in Forbes, effective school leaders constantly strive to improve the quality of teaching at their schools. They also offer continual professional development opportunities that support educators and encourage teachers to adopt advanced classroom techniques and new teaching solutions.

Embracing Creative Solutions

While some administrators may prefer to do things by the book or use established methods to solve problems, the most effective school leaders understand that they need new ideas to move forward. For this reason, they tend to embrace creative solutions and encourage staff and faculty members to think creatively. Adopting this characteristic may enable administrators to create a school environment that is more resourceful and that invites staff and faculty members to contribute.

Cultivating Partnerships

Even the most visionary school leaders know that they cannot accomplish all of their goals on their own. This is why few of the best administrators prefer to work independently. Instead, they understand the importance of working as a team, and they strive to cultivate partnerships among faculty members, students, parents, and community members.

Derrick Meador explains that cultivating high-level partnerships is important for principals, but so is forming personal relationships with countless people throughout the day. School leaders who take the time to understand the wants and needs of the many students, faculty, parents, and community members with whom they interact regularly will have a better chance of earning trust and developing influential long-term relationships.

Creating an Open-Door Policy

While many people expect high-profile school administrators to speak convincingly and make powerful statements, being an excellent listener is just as important for effective school leaders. This characteristic is especially helpful when interacting with angry parents, frustrated educators, or annoyed community partners, as listening and demonstrating empathy can go a long way toward resolving unpleasant situations.

The most effective school leaders may even go so far as to create an open-door policy. This encourages students, faculty, parents, and community members to communicate freely on any subject. Adopting such a policy may require more time and resources, but strong school leaders know that this can be an important way to gather feedback, understand issues, and communicate effectively.

For many ambitious teachers, an advanced degree serves as the first step toward a career in education administration. Visit the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music at Kent State University to discover how an online Master of Music in music education can prepare driven music educators to become effective school leaders.


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