Principals’ Social and Emotional Competence: A Key Factor for Creating Caring Schools

Julia Mahfouz, Assistant Professor of Education and Human Development, University of Colorado at Denver

Mark Greenberg, Emeritus Professor and Founding Director, Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, Penn State

Amanda Rodriquez, Principal, Clark Elementary School, Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Executive Summary

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. As such, the personal and professional development of principals is a key element in creating a caring school in which adults and children feel welcomed, cared for, and challenged. It is now recognized that principals experience substantial job-related stress which can compromise their personal well-being as well as their leadership. Surprisingly, the social and emotional development and well-being of principals has received little attention.

This brief provides a conceptual model of the Prosocial School Leader, which has two components. The first is the principal’s own social and emotional competence (SEC) and the ability to handle stress and model caring and culturally competent behaviors with staff and students. The second component is an enhanced model of leadership in which principals are the prosocial leaders whose responsibility is to ensure that all staff, students, parents, and community members feel safe, cared for, respected, and valued. Principals’ SECs, well-being, and leadership form the foundation that influences the effective implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL), school climate, teacher functioning and well-being, family and community partnerships, and downstream student outcomes.

This brief reviews the research on principal stress, coping, and positive school leadership. However, the research is currently thin, especially on how principals’ professional development, preparation programs, and certification standards can be strengthened to improve principal well-being and school outcomes. We review various strategies to enhance effective leadership by supporting principals to deepen their social and emotional competencies, all of which set the foundation for student success. We conclude with a series of recommendations on research, programs, and policies to build this field and improve the lives of principals for effective prosocial leadership.

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