Maintaining a Connection with Students: 7 Tips for Administrators

Most principals were once classroom teachers. They loved education and making a direct impact on students and learning. But something drew them out of the classroom and into administration.

People who become principals understand that their impact will be further reaching than it was in the classroom. They give up the day-to-day, close relationship building with students in order to create and implement systems that will ensure success for all students and teachers.

But principals and administrators are still teachers at heart. The best ones make time to stay involved with student learning. They know their personal relationships with students will create a warm and welcoming culture in the school. We drew on our experiences of teaching in schools and also spoke with principals to collect some of the best ways administrators can stay connected to students despite not being in the classroom every day.

1. Teach lessons about things you love.

Remember that lesson you loved teaching when you were in the classroom? You don’t have to give it up. Make appointments to teach at least one lesson in each classroom throughout the year. I taught at a school with a principal who loved poetry. She asked to come into my fourth- grade classroom and teach a poem by Mary Oliver. My students were thrilled to have a guest teacher. The principal read the poem and led the class in a Socratic seminar to analyze its meaning. Then each student painted an image related to their understanding of the poem.

2. Host a lunch with the principal event.

There’s nothing like bonding over food. Pick a day each week or each month to host students for lunch. You can eat with them in the cafeteria or invite them to dine with you in your office. This helps students see that trips to the principal’s office don’t have to be a bad thing.

3. Get goofy.

Students think of principals as serious people who are usually pretty busy. By participating in school events, you’ll show them that you’re a fun person who cares about the school. Dress up for holidays, parades, and special events.  Volunteer to sit in the dunk tank at the fair. Don’t be afraid to get messy in the hopes of connecting with students.

4. Make discipline a learning experience.

One of the reasons students don’t feel a close connection with principals is because of the idea that their job is to punish students, make phone calls home, and generally be strict and unwavering. Make sure that when you do have to work with students on discipline that you make it an experience of listening and understanding. Trying to get to the root of the issue rather than rushing to punish students will help go a long way towards building trust. If you’re not sure how to get started, check out the Love and Logic program for schools. It’s all about logical consequences and getting students to take responsibility.

5. Take polls and surveys in the hallways.

If you’ve got a big decision to make, ask for student input. During assemblies or while monitoring the hall in between classes, pull a few students aside and ask their opinions on things. Once you learn students’ names, say hello and greet them personally every time you see them.

6. Attend after school activities.

Sporting events have a way of bringing people together. You don’t need to attend every baseball game of the year, but try to make it to a few. Greet students before or after the game. The next day, congratulate students on their participation and achievement. This goes for other functions, too. Attend the community science fair if one of the students at your school is participating. Making the effort to show up for students outside of school hours shows them how much you care. It’s a great way to build relationships.

7. Create a “Principal’s Book of the Month” program.

Share your interests and love of reading with the whole school. Designate one book each month that you want to share with each class. Purchase enough copies so that each teacher gets one. Try to make it to each class at least once during the year to read the book of the month to students. The principals at one of my first schools used this program to build on reading standards. Each grade level would respond to the book of the month and one classroom would display those responses in a designated hallway. As you walked down the hallway, you saw responses to the same book from classes in kindergarten through fifth grade. It was great way to build camaraderie knowing every student in the school had read the same book.

If you’ve made the switch from teacher to administrator, you’ve probably already got a few great systems in place for keeping connected with students. If you haven’t made the switch, hopefully, this gives you some idea that keeping positive relationships with students when you’re a principal isn’t so hard.

Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs for, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children’s fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.

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