Unlocking the Ten Keys to Affective School Leadership – Part 2

Jamie Bricker

Last month’s article, Unlocking the Ten Keys to Affective School Leadership – Part 1, explored the first five steps principals should follow to ensure that they are both establishing and constantly nurturing an affective school culture. The essence of affective leadership is all about school leaders ensuring that all stakeholders genuinely feel valued, respected, and heard.

February’s article discussed the importance of a principal being accountable, adaptable, authentic, clear, and collaborative. These five traits are all essential to being a truly affective and impactful school leader, and in varying degrees they all apply to a principal’s daily interactions with a wide range of stakeholders across the school community. 

Today’s article is the final installment in this three-part series, as the remaining five keys are discussed:  compassion, consistency, open-mindedness, transparency, and visibility. None of these keys works in isolation, and many of them are strongly interconnected. The powerful synergy generated by these ten leadership traits helps unlock the keys to being an affective and impactful school leader.



  • Principals should recognize that some decisions must be driven by cold hard data, but many others certainly provide an opportunity, and need, for varying degrees of concern, care, and compassion.
  • Principals should be available and supportive when stakeholders have personal or professional matters that they wish to discuss. Many times the affected person will seek out the administrator, but school leaders must also keep their ear to the ground and recognize when people are clearly struggling emotionally and then reach out accordingly.
  • Principals should be more flexible on time lines this year, as staff members have been dealing with a litany of unprecedented personal and professional challenges.     

Everyone has been involuntarily riding an emotional roller coaster for the past twelve months, and principals need to constantly offer reassurance and understanding.



  • Principals should engage with all stakeholders in the same welcoming, reassuring manner. Regardless of accumulated stresses and distractions from earlier in the day, leaders need to be able to compartmentalize any residual thoughts and emotions and offer their undivided attention to the issue at hand.
  • Principals should always convey a reserved and controlled demeanor, and the office should be the calmest area in the school. If the school leader is seen not to be in control, then a sense of anxiety and uncertainty quickly sweeps across the entire building. The need for this calm exterior certainly heightens during particularly stressful times, such as returning to work during a pandemic.
  • Principals should routinely base their decisions on sound judgment and logic. Many situations will arise that have a strong emotional component embedded within them, but principals need to be able to remove themselves from any tears and fears and make a reasonable and rational decision.



  • Principals should welcome a wide range of different opinions. The more people feel valued, appreciated, and understood, the more likely they are to share their voice. More voices generate richer conversations, and richer conversations generate better ideas. Vibrant school communities depend on a steady influx of these quality ideas to prosper and grow. 
  • Principals should encourage calculated risk-taking, as this is how staff members find fulfillment and how schools find growth. Change is undoubtedly going to be the operative word in our students’ future educational and employment experiences, so modeling that kind of culture both within individual classrooms and across the overall school will reinforce this important message.
  • Principals should be both respectful of past practices and excited for future possibilities. Leading change is rarely an all or nothing proposition, and affective school leaders recognize both the merits of past practices, and areas that will clearly require everything from fine tuning to a complete overhaul.



  • Principals should keep in mind that they are always setting the tone for everyone in the school. They are constantly reinforcing, either intentionally or unintentionally, what comments and behaviours are going to be accepted and encouraged throughout the building. Within this fishbowl existence, how principals routinely conduct themselves throughout a typical school day resonates across the entire school community.
  • Principals should make a concerted effort to avoid perpetuating a workplace full of hidden agendas and side deals, centered around an all too obvious “in crowd.” No staff member can be a principal’s personal friend, as that understandably would trigger terrible optics and a lot of staff unrest. There can also be no “in crowd,” as everyone in the building must be part of the one and only crowd. All staff members must feel valued and truly know that good effort will be recognized.
  • Principals should minimize surprises. A big part of transparency is sharing timely information. People should be kept abreast of situations which will more than likely impact them at some point in the near or long term. Particularly in tumultuous times like the past year, people are struggling with more than enough unknowns in their personal lives, so their professional lives should be as predictable as possible. 



  • Principals should be routinely seen across the hallways, classrooms, and school yard. It is the only way to get a true sense of academic practices, classroom dynamics, and the success of overall school routines. It also provides an excellent opportunity for staff and students alike to share quick questions or concerns, which may or may not warrant additional time and focus.
  • Principals should always place people before paper. There is an ever-increasing flow of e-mails that require a leader’s attention, but the vast majority can, and should, be addressed during non-teaching times. Affective leaders prioritize face to face time with staff, which has clearly been a major challenge during the pandemic. Electronic sharing of information should be limited to reminders and routine factual information, as more important topics require some degree of dialogue.
  • Principals should be most visible during times of crisis. There are those handful of pivotal moments every school year when an administrator has to step up and stand at the front of the line. At these critical junctures, all stakeholders expect the principal to convey a confident presence, a logical plan, and a reassuring message.

This is the latest article in a monthly series on the impact of Affective Leadership in the school system. Affective leadership is all about working with people, rather than trying to work through them or simply going around them. All stakeholders become far more invested in the school, when they feel genuinely valued, respected, and heard by administration. The pandemic has immeasurably heightened this need for connectivity.


About the author

Jamie Bricker is a published author and international speaker. As a retired school principal, he has long been a strong advocate of affective leadership and has experienced its profound impact. He is also co-host of two podcasts, including Affective Leadership – Positivity Promotes Productivity. He also blogs weekly on various aspects of affective leadership, and his blogs can be found on LinkedIn. Jamie can be contacted by email at info@jamiebricker.com or through his website at  www.jamiebricker.com.         

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