Effective School Leaders are Reflective Practitioners

As a principal, not everything will go your way. You will make plenty of mistakes, and at times you will fail. There may even be times when you won’t be able to isolate the cause of a problem. In these times, you must rely on your skills as a reflective practitioner.

Being a reflective practitioner means that when problems arise and you feel confounded or unsure of yourself, you take some time to reflect. Reflecting on a situation or issue, allows you to think critically about it, thus allowing you to formulate a series of appropriate responses. Afterward, you just implement your series of actions, and take a breath a sigh of relief when you see results.

Let’s look a scenario in which a principal is facing a complex issue, with lots of moving parts. After reflecting on the situation, he formulates long-term solutions that end up bringing the community together. After you finish reading the vignette, think of two additional strategies that the principal could have used. Reflect on your answer, using your thoughts to inform your practice.

Scenario: During the great recession of the late 2000s, many families from poor socioeconomic backgrounds fled inner city areas and moved to thriving, middle-class cities nearby. Principal Joseph Gutierrez’s school was located in a district that straddled a middle-class area populated mainly by European Americans and a much poorer area, where the housing was relatively inexpensive. During the flight from the inner cities, many socioeconomically disadvantaged families, most of them African American and Hispanic, moved into the poor area, and the number of minority students at his school nearly doubled.

Faced with a sudden drop in test scores, frictions between the middle-class and lower-class students, and an increased dropout rate, Principal Gutierrez realized he had to completely overhaul his school. Quick-fix solutions like begging the community for mentors to help disadvantaged students study during testing periods were not going to do much in the long run.

After extended discussions with staff members and the school board, he instigated monthly meetings for parents. He got local restaurants and taxi services to commit to providing free food and rides to and from the meetings, and teachers volunteered to provide activities for the children.

The parents held directed discussions on issues such as nutrition, bedtimes, and homework, with an emphasis on creating structures that would assist each other. Out of the discussions grew a network that extended across the socioeconomic lines. Over time, students’ test scores stabilized, and the communities grew closer together.

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