Don’t be Afraid of the Principal

As former elementary students, we may all share some residual fear of the school principal that prevents us from going to the front office for help.

The principal is the leader of the school. She does the hiring, sets school standards, handles discipline, and is responsible for a legion of administrative details. One middle school principal told me she kept 14 files on her desk, covering issues from facilities to leadership training to professional development.

A principal may also be the unofficial construction project manager for a remodeling effort, and need to figure out where to shuffle classrooms. She may be a lunch monitor. And with new teacher evaluations and more Common Core standards coming into play, principals are busier than ever. Some experts estimate that the average principal works a ten-hour day.

Knowing how busy your principal can be, is it a good idea to approach her about your child’s problems in the classroom?

It actually is.

When should you approach the principal?

Principals aren’t just there to call you if your children are expelled from school. Part of the a principal’s job is to talk with parents about all sorts of academic and behavioral issues. One principal told me, “I love talking with parents.” Meeting with people about how to make the school better for a student is one of her favorite things about the job. She might have 500 students, but she appreciates it when parents want to talk about what is going on in the classroom. In other words, you are not wasting her time.

Principals want to know if there are problems, particularly if parents and teachers are having trouble communicating. oth parties may want what’s best for the student, but it sometimes feels like “what’s best” is up for debate.

How can the principal help?

Principals can effectively de-escalate situations and remove conflict. Most have a lot of experience with conflict resolution, and have defused all kinds of situations before. Like any good leader, they absorb the heat and stay calm. Principals are more familiar with the resources or programs available and can make suggestions to improve parent-teacher communication.

What’s the best way to contact the principal?

A principal may have as many as ten parent meetings a week. You might be able to catch her when dropping off your child, or you may want to make an appointment to speak with her. It is always a good idea to talk to the teacher before contacting the principal. If you are having trouble communicating with your child’s teacher, include the principal by sending a courteous request to meet and discuss your child’s issue.

Give background when you leave a message, and let the front office know that you have already been in touch with the teacher. A principal may not want to meet with parents until she has spoken with the teacher. That way, the teacher is less likely to feel undermined.

Let your child’s teacher know that you’d like to bring in the principal for help. Teachers can be a little wary of parents; understanding this will help you address issues in a productive way. Then go into this meeting with an open mind as you advocate for your child.