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Arkansas State University

5 Interpersonal Skills for School Principals to Cultivate

On the surface, it may seem like the job of a school principal is relatively straightforward: helming the school, being in charge of teachers and staff and making the big (and challenging) decisions. It’s impossible to dispute that one needs to be impeccably organized and equipped with leadership skills to succeed as a P-12 principal. However, interpersonal skills play a significant role in becoming an effective school principal.

There are several qualities and characteristics that are important to cultivate for this role. The following explores them in more depth.

1. Body language matters

Language is of utmost importance, but the in-between messages comprise so much of our communication as humans. Sometimes, just saying something is not enough to make it land, and we can feel it when it doesn’t. This conveyance is entirely related to nonverbal communication, specifically to body language.

Elena Aguilar from Edutopia proposes reflecting on the following: “As you communicate with others — students, colleagues, parents — start focusing your attention on your own nonverbal cues. How do you communicate kindness? Curiosity? Compassion? How do you interpret the nonverbal communication of others? Does your interpretation cause you to become more curious and compassionate, or to shut down and create distance with the other person?”

2. Listen attentively

In the same vein, it’s vital to listen very closely to what students, teachers, parents and staff alike are saying — both verbally and non-verbally. When dealing with high-stress situations, especially, lending someone an ear is the first step to solving the conflict (and sometimes, it may be all they even need). As Derrick Meador says in an article for ThoughtCo., “You can disarm most difficult situations simply by showing them that you care enough to listen to what they want to say. When someone wants to meet with you because they feel wronged in some way, you need to hear them out.”

Never be afraid to ask questions when you aren’t sure you understand. It’s also worth repeating what you thought you understood to get verbal confirmation that that’s what they mean. This clarification will help avoid any misunderstandings.

3. Know your audience

Perhaps the most important interpersonal skill to develop is to have the sensitivity in understanding the best way to encourage each individual’s success. It’s true that ‘tough love’ works for some people, but it may cause others to shut down if they need more positive reinforcement. At the same time, you shouldn’t have to accept subpar performance or a bad attitude just to please the other person.

Knowing the proper tone with the right audience is a golden quality in a school principal.

4. Be at the forefront of conflict-solving

Principals spend a lot of time resolving conflicts among teachers, pupils and staff. Therefore, being well versed in communication techniques and engaging in creative ideas is necessary for any professional working in this area.

5. Encourage leadership in other people

“A broad and longstanding consensus in leadership theory holds that leaders in all walks of life and all kinds of organizations, public and private, need to depend on others to accomplish the group’s purpose and need to encourage the development of leadership across the organization,” write the authors of the Wallace Foundation. “Schools are no different. Principals who get high marks from teachers for creating a strong climate for instruction in their schools also receive higher marks than other principals for spurring leadership in the faculty […]”

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more principals encourage others to become leaders, the more their authority is respected. People are more willing to work with a leader who trusts their potential and skills than one who undermines their capacity. Good leaders raise good leaders.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s Ed.S. in Educational Leadership, Principalship online program.

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