Engaging Students as an Administrator

Richard Lawrence
Richard Lawrence
Elementary school principal; M.A. in School Administration
Administrator sitting at a desk talking to a student.

Importance of Student Engagement

There are numerous ways that an administrator can engage students. Mostly, these will be overall positive interactions. There will be times when the interactions will be disciplinary and where remediation is necessary. However, even in these situations, a positive interaction and end result can occur.

Grade levels will determine the nature of administrative relationships with students, but the ongoing goals are the same. The lead administrator sets the tone in the school and should be encouraging, nurturing, set high academic and behavioral standards, and foster a sense of community within the school.

So while you occupy one job description, your roles are many. You are the chief citizen, encourager, cheerleader, disciplinarian, goal setter, public relations officer, community liaison, academic officer, and so forth. Legally, you are acting “In Loco Parentis,” a legal term that signifies that you occupy the role of parent during school hours.

Strategies for Engaging Students

Let’s look now at the specific ways that an administrator can engage students. The first is a very general engagement, but in many ways it is the most important. You are the face of the school. You set the tone, mood, and are the primary shaper of the school culture. Simply put, you will walk around and get to know people: students, staff, parents, and guardians etc.

Make an effort to introduce yourself, learn the names of your students, and develop ongoing relationships with them. Inquire about their academic progress, the extracurricular activities they are involved in, their hobbies, and their general well being. Know your boundaries. Do not pry into personal areas that students are reluctant to talk about, but leave things open for students to approach you on weightier personal matters if they’d like. You can then take appropriate steps to refer them to a counselor, contact their parents, or call social services if need be.

You can at times give personal guidance, but be careful not to stray over any lines you shouldn’t cross. This is an ongoing balancing act, and you need to regularly check yourself as well to be aware of the appropriate protocol in these situations. If a grey area arises, wait and seek advice from a colleague. Never act impulsively.

The principal/administrator will also engage students on the academic level. While it is the role of the classroom teacher to deliver instruction, the principal plays a large role in promoting and rewarding academic achievement in the school. This is typically done at the end of the marking periods, possibly monthly if the school has a “Student of the Month” program and at the end of the year, for yearly academic achievement awards. At the high school level, it may be for recognition of an academic or athletic scholarship a student has been awarded.

Conversely, the principal can engage students who are struggling academically to lend assistance, point to resources, play a role in possible retention, and/or suggest an alternate program of study.

As I mentioned in the opening, the principal occupies many roles and is the primary shaper of the culture. A facet of schools that you don’t hear about too often these days is the goal of developing good citizens and promoting good citizenship. This was one of the original purposes of schools in the colonies and the early United States, if not the primary purpose. It still exists, but is often implied rather than actively promoted. At my school, we make an active effort to recognize acts of citizenship through our “Caught Being Good” initiative. Students that are acknowledged for good deeds receive a small certificate, pick a prize from the prize box, and get their picture taken and posted on our Facebook page. This is a quick and easy way to recognize and engage our students while we promote citizenship.

Another way for administrators to engage students is to attend extracurricular events. This can range from family nights, talent show competitions, sporting events, school concerts and plays etc. As the principal of an elementary school, I have to attend each event the school has. It is a fun way to interact with students and families, and they show appreciation when you attend and show a genuine interest. When I was a high school vice principal, I went to one sporting event for each of the sports. On the high school level, there are far more opportunities to attend events and you have to pick and choose so you’re not out every night of the week.

These are a few of the main ways administrators can interact with students throughout the school year. The last mention I would make are community events that are not school sponsored. This can range from sports leagues that are not school affiliated to town fairs, festivals, etc. This isn’t something that you are obligated to make a part of your schedule, but if you have opportunities to go to any of these events, I would recommend it. It shows you are interested in the community you work in beyond your paid responsibilities and obligations.

*Updated December, 2020
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