Considering overcrowded classrooms, bullying, widespread student need for basic materials or food, and growing school dropout rates, administrators of K-12 public schools in the U.S. are dealing with a lot. Still, no school district faces problems that exist just within the school walls — and the COVID-19 pandemic has made this especially apparent.
Many of these issues are, unfortunately, outside the control of school administrators. However, there is still much educational leaders can learn from their colleagues as well as with an advanced degree like the online MSEd in Educational Administration with a Specialization in Principal Preparation from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Bullying is not a new issue, but the more frequent use of technology by young people has moved the majority of cases from the school halls to the online realm, which can be tricky to navigate as a school leader.
Grace Chen from Public School Review notes, “Technology has given bullies even more avenues to torment their victims – through social networking, texting and other virtual interactions. As a result, cyberbullying has become a major issue for schools, as evidenced by the number of suicides that can be directly traced to bullying events.”
Laws and regulations are not straightforward in this area, which means that the consequences school leaders can impart on perpetrators is not always consistent. As a school administrator, you can make a difference by noticing if a student seems to be falling into a depression, or if they are being excluded from group dynamics. These may be early signs that they are experiencing bullying. In this modern age, educators can empower students by teaching them to use communication tools responsbily and defend against online harassment by reporting posts, messages and fake accounts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the digital divide between students from more affluent families and those from lower-income backgrounds. According to Brenda Álvarez for National Education Association News, “Last year, the Associated Press analyzed census data and found that nearly 3 million (18 percent) of U.S. students lack home internet access, and 17 percent had no home computers.”
School administrators with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and a lack of internet access have a very difficult time during school closures. Although many have gotten back to in-person classes since the start of the pandemic, the future of public education is still uncertain. As a professional, you can adopt more technological tools, apps and other systems to help children learn in adverse environments. You may not be able to ensure that every student can afford a laptop, but you can prepare them to become technologically literate people who won’t have to learn a whole new digital language when they join the workforce.
Student Mental Health
Poverty affects 22% of children in the U.S., so it’s no wonder that there is a strain on students’ mental health and ability to perform in school. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to keep students from dropping out. The No Child Left Behind movement has put immense pressure on teachers to focus on standardized testing. This priority is often detrimental to students’ learning processes, especially those with special needs or from marginalized backgrounds.
As Grace Chen from the Public School Review notes, “Many teachers believe they are forced to teach to the annual standardized tests, and activities like recess and lunch have been cut way down to make more time for academics in light of the new testing procedures.” A way to circumvent this pressure is for educators to reassure students that tests cannont measure their academic prowess and future success. Teaching content outside the standardized tests and giving them other opportunities to measure their skills is a way to empower students effectively.
It’s always a bit of a challenge to address students’ mental health and well-being, but teachers play a crucial role in noting warning signs for a student. A decline in a pupil’s physical health may jeopardize their learning as much as a hit to their mental health. Therefore, school administrators should familiarize themselves with signs of eating disorders, depression, neurodivergent diagnoses and other challenges students face.
Paying it Forward
An advanced degree in Principal Preparation can give professionals the tools they need to impact students’ lives within and beyond school walls. Of course, as a school adminstrator, you can’t control everything. Still, good communication with students and families can change at least one person’s life, whether through efforts to stop bullying, ensure technology access to learners or support student mental health.