According to recent research by the Association of Psychological Science, students’ values can be linked to school climate, and in turn to the values of their principals.
The study looked at 252 principals, 3,600 teachers, and 50,000 students in Israel and found that, over the course of the two-year study, student vales came to reflect those of their principals. Though there are some details that need more research, like how specific policies impact school climate and student values, the influence of principals on these things is quite clear.
The impact principals have on a school should come as little surprise. Being the chief administrators puts them into a similar position to CEOs. Research on CEOs inspired this study in the first place. But this research is new and exciting because there has been little investigation into how school climate or culture impacts students outside of pure academics. This seems like an outrageous oversight, since talking to students or former students should provide a great deal of insight into how school life affects or affected them.
This realization that principals shape school climate, and in turn students’ values, could be a very important tool, especially in a United States that just elected Donald Trump as its next president.
As soon as the day after that election, schools have been reporting a significant increase in racism among students, as many white students at all levels of education have embraced the racism of Trump and see his election as a free pass to do what they want.
For example, at Southern Lehigh High School in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, students have been the victims of anti-gay and racial slurs. Black students have been called cotton pickers, and some students have even used “heil Hitler” salutes.
Principal Christine Siegfried called a special assembly to address the issue after sending a letter home to parents telling them about the events at the school.
District superintendent Kathleen Evison says, “One incident is one too many. To make sure we got ahead of this, the high school principal pulled students together and held an assembly to talk about respect, how everyone is different and this behavior will not be tolerated.”
Now, more than ever, educators have the duty to ensure that all of their students are kept safe and given equal opportunities to learn and grow. That cannot be done in schools where these kinds of actions are allowed to go uncorrected.
Principals need to take an active hand in creating a progressive, safe environment for all students, and hopefully passing those values on to the students themselves.