Getting to Know Your Students Better as a Principal

Andrew Passinger
Andrew Passinger
Middle-High School Principal; M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, Gifted Certification
An administrator stands outside of the school doors as students get dropped off by parents.

Multiple reasons exist regarding why educators take the step into administration. Some people become bored with the daily grind and want more of a challenge. Others feel they can make a positive change in the lives of students, teachers, and school cultures, among other areas.

And with born leaders, the educational ladder makes sense for them: to move through all positions to better understand and inform change within a whole community. And while I needed a new change as an eighteen-year English teaching veteran, I also wanted to flip the script on the types of students I was helping.

Having the opportunity to teach advanced and college in high school classes, forming relationships with those students was easy and worth every second of academic preparations. But my main reason for moving into administration was to affect more lives, especially of those who needed a strong role model missing from their lives.

Principals are held to high standards because there is such a strong spotlight on every move made by administrators. The area of communication is a strength of mine and building relationships with “tougher” style students was the challenge I needed and wanted, among so many other reasons. Plus, administration has evolved from the tough, intimidating traditional format to a more open, responsive, caring position.

Why You Should Get to Know Your Students as a Principal

So, why should principals get to know their students better? A whole host of reasons come to mind but showing students that one cares about them outside of the relationships within the classrooms is so integral to students who come to school for safety and security reasons.

Creates a Comfortable Learning Environment

Knowing the students on all levels creates a comfortable environment for them to learn. It also allows a principal to show the appropriate behavior and builds expectations within the building and the community. Students who get to know their principals understand they are human beings and that those administrators might have experienced some of the same issues they are going through.

Mutual Respect

Whether in a small, rural community or large urban area, understanding their kids is a mandatory step toward building respect, which affects several layers of the school. This supports all levels if students know and respect their principal, especially knowing that administrators respect their teachers. Students who may not connect to their teachers may have the opportunity to share their ideas or frustrations with their principal, who could then help bridge the gap between the student and teacher.

On numerous occasions, I have been the intermediary between students and teachers, parents and teachers, and even teachers and teachers. Most of those times, each party didn’t know the other party was feeling a particular way. Knowing both the student and what is best for the student is impactful in each of these relationships.

How to Get to Know Your Students

Now, what are some of the strategies a school principal can use to get to know their students?

Supervising Lunch

One small action that reaps rewards is taking time to sit with students during their lunch times in the cafeteria. While several principals may have the cafeteria covered with teacher supervision, I will try to stop in every single lunch period to communicate with students outside of the “formal” classroom and hallway principal position.

It has been enlightening to find out what students are interested in, create personal jokes with them that extend beyond their high school years, and share some of my life experiences with them. Knowing the students has created a much smoother disciplinary process because I have participated in their lives, which makes communication much easier.

Rewarding Students

Rewarding all levels of students has created a huge advantage in knowing my students. Sometimes I call varying levels of students into my office to reward them with positive affirmations or even pieces of candy, ranging from awesome grades for academic students to a solid behavior week from some of my frequent flyers. It’s amazing to watch both the relief from being called to the principal’s office and the excitement they share when they realize they are getting credit from someone who isn’t a teacher or a parent.

Monthly Lunches with Students

Another strategy the middle school principal and I have instituted is monthly lunches with random students and pre-selected tables. We reserve a conference room and invite those students to a lunch that we provide. Then we sit, eat, and talk with them. That thirty minutes can have such an impactful effect on their lives. Again, getting to know our students is imperative to implementing a positive culture within the school system because teachers often share with us the positive comments they overhear from their students.

Interact with Students Outside of Classes

Other strategies including talking with students during formal and informal observations – it’s amazing how much they will share about the classroom and lessons when given the chance to showcase: making appearances on the morning announcements to the whole school while being goofy or out of principal character, calling parents to share highlights about their children, and being present at as many extracurricular events as possible.

This last one is not just about sports but choir concerts, musicals, and theatrical performances, and band performances. Students will respond so much more when they know their principals are taking a focused look at students’ hobbies and interests.

And while there are so many demands placed upon administrators, these strategies and activities can build relationships with their students, thus promoting a healthy educational atmosphere, which creates an immeasurable amount of success. One reason I wanted to step into this role is to be a strong advocate for my students as young people, not just numbers.

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