Moving the Learning Environment from Chaos into Calm

School principals model educational beliefs, behaviors and expectations that impact the entire school community – teachers, support staff, parents and students. Some school principals have to work extraordinarily hard and fast in adverse circumstances simply to impose the order and calm needed for learning.

In one of CLI’s toughest schools, the principal was weak and the atmosphere was toxic: the administration berated the staff over the school’s loudspeaker system, the teachers screamed at students, students and their parents wandered the halls throughout the school day, and students were too distracted and unruly to learn. CLI’s professional developer hung in there, working with teachers who were, frankly, unable and not motivated to teach in that environment. The weak principal eventually retired and was replaced by a strong principal, a woman who emphasized school culture.

A strong principal addresses the “emotional” aspects of managing people and change and works to bring out the best in his or her staff. This new principal not only moved quickly to implement change, but also addressed how her school community might react to the change.

First, the new principal trained the security guards and established a new arrival and dismissal routines for the school, with pre-determined pickup and drop off procedures. Parents were kept out of the building during the school day, but the principal always made herself available to speak with parents individually.

The parents’ response? They screamed and cursed outside of the school buildings at dismissal, pounding on the windows until some broke. This continued for about three months, but the principal never raised her voice and always made herself available to staff and parents.

With staff, students and parents, the principal modeled what was expected within her school. She trained her staff on lunchtime procedures — where to sit in the lunch room, exactly how to signal to students how they should handle themselves in the cafeteria – and also hall monitoring. When a substitute teacher was in a classroom, the principal would station herself outside that classroom’s door in between periods, gently urging students, “Show me how well you know how to change classes” – an act that also reinforced the school’s expectations for the substitute teacher.

During the school year, CLI provided this principal much-needed support through one-on-one coaching and facilitated meetings with other principals in the district. The principal was relieved to have a CLI regional manager visit regularly in her school to provide feedback and support her efforts as an instructional leader.

As a result of this principal’s leadership, students and parents no longer wander this school’s halls uncontrolled. The learning atmosphere shifted from one of toxic chaos to one of safety, calmness, respect and joy. The teachers? They are in heaven. They can finally teach, and their students are ready to learn.

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