Have you ever been threatened to be taken to the principal’s office when you misbehaved at school? Many of us (when we were school-going kids) would do almost anything to avoid trips to the principal’s office simply because they were too scary. A visit to the principal’s office is often a nightmare to students. The scenario continues even up to this day.
When I was young and energetic (elementary school age), I loved cycling. My parents bought a bicycle for me and allowed extensive rides during the day, and sometimes, in the night. However, they quickly realized that I was becoming too attached to the bicycle. I started neglecting my studies. As all parents do, they had to intervene. They took the bicycle and hid it in one of the rooms when I was sleeping one night. When I got up in the morning, they told me that the bicycle was in the ‘other’ room and that the room was now being guarded by ghosts. I believed in them and thereafter, never went anywhere close to the bicycle. I avoided even the sight of the ‘other’ room because it produced a lot of fear in my heart.
Whenever I recall this experience, I somehow associate it with the experience of visiting a principal’s office. Why? Because both elicit the same amount of fear and cause intense anxiety and discomfort.
A principal is the leader of an educational institution. An educational institution is essentially a human system developed to nurture and equip young people to become functional members of the society. However, the role of a principal has been viewed and carried out on the basis of ‘crude’ authority, even at the cost of instilling fear in students and teachers. When fear dominates the system, the processes of teaching and learning are ‘delayed’.
Educators often wonder why a school struggles to make any progress in spite of various intervention extended to the people involved in its operation. However, a careful examination of relationships among people in the school will reveal that the leader him/herself is not demonstrating care and concern for his/her own ‘sheep’. Instead of being emotionally involved with them, he/she constantly detaches him/herself from them to preserve the existing professional distance. In the end, the principal fails to obtain the confidence and trust of the very people he/she attempts to lead toward success and accomplishment (of various institutional and educational goals).
The principals that I came across so far display the same kind of ‘distorted’ attitude and about their job description. They usually feel that they are supposed to be hardhearted and stern in order to ‘push’ people and get the job done! They tend to be stony, unsympathetic, unemotional, and separated from the relational realities of the school life. At their best, they SCARE students and teachers, thinking that they portray a positive view about themselves and their position of leadership by doing so.
After all these years of schooling and teaching, I finally met with a principal (who is the Chief Administrator of the Satya Sai School, Lopburi, Thailand) who is different from all other principals. I would personally recommend him as an exemplary principal for schools worldwide. He is the honorable Dr. Art-Ong Jumsai Na Ayudhya. I had the privilege of meeting with him to deliver a complimentary copy of my first book How to Become a Caring Teacher. During my visit, many students stopped by him, gave him a big smile, greeted him with a hug, and talked to him about their lives, before continuing with their daily activities. He responded to them with love and genuine care. It was evident that both students and teachers were attracted to him. He was not scary. Instead, he was so comforting that students and teachers were enthralled about being with him. They shared their concerns with him without any reservation.
Educators like Dr. Art-Ong Jumsai make visits to the principal’s office more joyful and less anxiety-provoking. If principals thought that order and productivity can be improved by being impersonal with students and teachers, they ought to think again. It is their existing approach to leadership that is causing inefficiency in all areas of the school system. Once principals learn that a personal and genuine relationship with students and teachers yield a significant success in the area of teaching, learning, and school governance, they will want their offices to be the most visited and least feared in the whole school.
Until then, the principal is the most feared person at schools everywhere!
When I was studying in high school, the principal of the school would go for rounds at least twice a day (or whenever he got tired being in his office). He would announce his rounds by intentionally shaking a big bunch of keys. When they keys knocked each other, they made a loud chattering sound. Whenever students and teachers heard this sound, they knew that the principal was around. They would quickly get themselves together and put up an act just to please the ‘passing’ head of the institution. Once he was gone, things were back to square one!
Every time someone says, “Here comes the principal,” students and teachers respond to the statement with fear. When fear drives students and teachers, they only thing they can think of doing is to deceive a principal into believing that everything was ‘okay’, when in actual fact, it is not okay!
Caring principals dispel fear and instill trust in students and teachers to enhance teaching and learning experiences.
Copyright May 2006 by Dr. Edward Roy Krishnan, www.affectiveteaching.com