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As any hard-working school principal will know, the average school day can be stressful, exhausting, challenging, and often doesn’t end until well into the evening.

While the length of a school day is enough to make anyone weak and exhausted, a principal’s job can be uniquely draining, thanks to its demands on mental energy. Every day, principals are expected to display strong leadership qualities, handle conflicts involving students, staff, or parents, and fine-tune their empathetic capacities to help students in need.

Indeed, plenty of scientific research links work that demands this kind of cognitive flexibility with exhaustion and so-called ‘burnout’. Want to learn more about how a principal’s everyday life can affect the brain? Read on…

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1. Principals are amazing at empathizing with students

Most principals spend a great deal of time thinking about students. Some of the many student-oriented tasks they are faced with include:

  • Addressing one or more students’ falling grades
  • Intervening in student conflicts or handling complaints about bullying
  • Investigating any concerns over a student’s home life
  • Praising students for any outstanding achievements

Of course, while putting oneself into the shoes of a student is not always easy, a good principal will be able to empathize with their particular situation to understand the root of an issue.

For most people, empathy comes naturally and can be used when friends or family members are in distress. Principals, however, tend to have empathetic qualities tuned to absolute perfection.

This is because one’s ability to empathize improves with practice. When people express empathy, areas of the brain known as the temporoparietal junction, the prefrontal cortex, and the inferior frontal gyrus work together to recognize others’ emotions and respond to them effectively. According to recent research, the connections between these brain regions can be strengthened with practice – something principals get a lot of!

2. Solving complex problems can help strengthen memory

Principals are frequently tasked with finding resolutions to many problems, such as student conflicts, budgetary constraints, or staff shortages. According to research, this problem-solving can strengthen memory-making by activating an area of the brain known as the hippocampus. It is theorized that the hippocampus helps to store away useful memories associated with successfully reaching solutions to problems.

Principals, therefore, tend to utilize the hippocampus multiple times a day, strengthening their memories and improving their problem-solving abilities!

3. Strong principals make for strong teachers

According to recent compelling research, leaders that build strong and empathetic relationships with their staff members can pass on positive traits such as compassion and the ability to bond with others.

Moreover, positive interactions can release a brain chemical known as oxytocin that produces feelings of happiness and warmth. An empathetic principal willing to build a friendly staff environment can help other teachers feel happy and welcome – a feeling that could trickle down to students!

4. The challenges that come with being a principal can help keep one’s brain fit and healthy

While the above challenges may sound like a lot of work (and can sometimes feel overwhelming even to the most diligent of principals), there has been plenty of research into the positive effects of daily challenging the brain. Indeed, if you’re a principal who finds work exhausting, rest assured that regularly exercising your cognitive abilities will keep your brain sharp for years to come!

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