What Makes a Great Leader?

Every summer, I teach an Emotional Intelligence (EQ) course to aspiring principals who are getting prepared for the challenges of leadership through the Summer Principals Academy at Teachers College, Columbia University. This graduate program incorporates EQ and daily guided mindfulness practice as foundational elements of effective and equity-driven leadership.

During the course, we explore how to use our emotions to know ourselves better, establish positive relationships and lead schools wholeheartedly. There is some “unlearning” that needs to take place, since many adults were taught to suppress or ignore their feelings. Witnessing my students’ growth and “aha” moments is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It shows that supporting the HEART skills of the adults working with children is essential to build compassionate, joyful and sustainable learning communities.

Recent research has found that “school principals have substantial impacts on many aspects of their schools, including school climate and culture, teacher well-being and retention, and students’ school success.” For these reasons, the development of social and emotional competencies is a key component in the preparation of effective and resilient school leaders, who can create welcoming and caring environments for adults and children, and are equipped to navigate the job-related stress that comes with leadership.

Fortunately, there are leadership programs, such as the one at Columbia University, where aspiring principals learn and practice these skills before they lead schools. However, this program is the exception, not the norm.

What would it take to incorporate these necessary skills in the preparation and development of school principals? 

How could we support these school leaders to avoid burnout and stay in the profession in the long term? 

The answer is probably a combination of supporting principals to intentionally use their HEART skills to lead more effectively, and also examining the systemic barriers that hinder their ability to bring their best selves into the workplace. If you are involved in preparing educational leaders, need help supporting your principals in your school or district, or would like to know more about this EQ class, get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

Principals’ understanding and use of their own HEART skills also impacts their ability to successfully lead any SEL initiative. I often tell schools and teachers “you cannot teach what you don’t practice.” This is also true for educational leaders: when administrators intentionally model HEART skills such as honoring their emotions or applying empathy, they are sending a message to their teachers and students that these are important skills to use on a regular basis. In addition, principals who create and maintain positive and trusting relationships with school stakeholders are better able to facilitate the implementation of school reforms such as SEL initiatives.

In summary, by supporting the development of principals’ social and emotional capacity, we are not only supporting their leadership effectiveness, but also influencing school climate and teacher and student well-being.

Get in touch if you are involved in professional development programs for school leaders, conducting research on principals’ social and emotional skills, or need help supporting principals in your district.

Leave a Comment

Articles by Date

Subscribe to the HEART in Mind Newsletter

Research-Based Strategies for your SEL Toolbox

Subscribe Basic

We don’t share your email with anybody. Unsubscribe anytime.