School leaders must ask this question, What do Students Need Today, because new circumstances demand new solutions, even for their basic needs.

What Do Students Need From School Leaders? Don’t Assume, Ask!

Every year schools are having to evolve to meet new challenges. What do students need and want today? Their needs are vastly different, yet curiously the same, to what students needed generations ago. It’s a paradox with which school leaders struggle. However, these basic needs will never change:

  • They need to be and feel safe.
  • They need to have spaces that are conducive to learning.
  • They need school leaders who will listen and be responsive to them.

But how these needs are met vastly differs today. In my video, I speak about how it was, back in 1999. As you listen, think about how your students can feel safe and heard right now….

Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs is still a potent construct today. We’re all looking for safety. Changing circumstances requires the school leaders of today to be flexible in seeking solutions. Will a fence around the school campus help students at home studying online through Zoom? At that point, a fence is no longer relevant. What other assumptions do you have that have now become irrelevant?

Students still have very real concerns about safety that go beyond gangs, school shootings, and bullying. But parents and school leaders won’t know what those concerns are until we have real conversations with young people and ask them! What we think students need and want, in actuality, may not be what they really need and want.

Achieving the position and power of school leadership may set you up for making assumptions, especially assumptions about being right and already knowing the answer because, after all, you’re the leader. That kind of assumption makes it hard for your team to come up with new ideas. Why should they try if you’ve already made your mind up? That kind of assumption kills creativity and innovation. You can fall into the trap of thinking, “we’ve always done it this way” or “if it’s not broken, why fix it?” 

Be cautious that you haven’t trained your team to stop questioning your assumptions. That’s when trust in your leadership totally breaks down.

  • Indicators to look for in your team: morale and productivity is down and you have a large turnover.
  • Indicators to look for in your students: morale and productivity is down and you have a large absenteeism/dropout rate.

Trust that your students want to have a future; but recognize that for so many reasons, they think their prospects may be bleak.

They worry that they’re getting the type of education they need to succeed in life. How safe can they feel if they don’t know how to spend money wisely, handle a credit card, create a budget and then balance it? How safe will they feel if they don’t have adequate training to hold a job? How safe will they feel if they can’t get into college? They worry about the environment and think that life on earth is threatened by global warming, so they feel powerless

They’re carrying a heavy weight on their shoulders and it’s up to us as leaders to lighten that load. Let’s empower them, by asking them about their thoughts and feelings. Gather real facts. Discuss it with the parents and your team. Actively look for ways to bring value to them. In this way, school leaders will be meeting the needs of students today. 

I’m passionate about helping school leaders to provide the best learning environment for their teams and their students. School leaders — I offer a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your current challenges so that we might see if we’re a good fit for working together to find the best solutions for you.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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