President’s Perspective: The Power of Hope

By Mark J. White
February 2015, Volume 38, Issue 6

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference with international principal leaders, and as is often the case at a conference, some of the best discussion took place outside of the formal presentations. I asked principals from Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Ireland, and Scotland about their most burning educational issues.

I am very much a novice in international education, so it surprised me somewhat to hear that our most difficult issues in the United States parallel so closely with theirs. Lack of adequate funding is a common concern, as is student mental health and behavioral needs. They also frequently mentioned special education and meeting individual students’ needs. However, the No. 1concern I heard was the dramatic growth in school accountability and educator effectiveness systems.

This was very striking to me. Most concerning, I believe, is the wave of educational accountability (too often, not based on sound or proven research or methods) that dominates the current educational landscape. What such accountability systems have done to our students, teachers, and principals in terms of their time, effort, and morale is gravely concerning to me and many of the principals I have spoken with this year. Educators should, of course, be accountable—but school, teacher, and principal accountability needs to be about more than test scores. We need measures with proven validity and reliability.


Leading Hope

These discussions also reinforced the important role of the principal. We have the great opportunity to support the systems and methods that move learning forward, in spite of the many daily challenges. Most importantly, as principals, we must provide hope that encourages each child and teacher to develop to their greatest potential. I believe that without hope, our leadership foundations will be weak. Our students and staff look to us every day to be positive beacons of hope and optimism.

Principals lead their entire building, and they must provide a hopeful atmosphere for all students and faculty. Every principal does this in his or her own way. For example, in her presentation at the 2014 NAESP National Conference in Nashville, author Susan Cain explored that introverts and extroverts lead in very different ways, but both can be successful in schools. I firmly believe that every principal can create a positive school climate in a manner that fits his or her personality.


The principalship can easily be an all-consuming profession. But the principal who works until 10 p.m. each night and most of the weekend will not be able to maintain that pace for long without compromising their health and well-being. Principals cannot be successful leaders without taking care of themselves. Making time for reflection, family, and taking care of our bodies allows us to be the best principal we can be.

On an airplane, the flight attendants always tell you that, in case of emergency, put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. Remember that you cannot take care of others unless you take care of yourself. Take a minute three to four times a day to give yourself a “time-out” to breathe deeply, reflect, or just clear your head. In the middle of a tough challenge, do something you enjoy. Try “putting the oxygen mask on yourself first” for the rest of the school year. You just might make yourself happier, healthier, more hopeful, and more successful.

Though maintaining positivity can be difficult at times, my experiences this year as NAESP President have reinforced that the most successful principals are those that radiate and affirm hope on a daily basis. Meeting and talking with accomplished principals, and seeing them in action, has confirmed this. These leaders have been inspiring and hopeful. They are leading learning communities that are achieving great things.

Mark J. White is president of NAESP and principal of Hintgen Elementary School in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Copyright © 2015. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy

Submit Your Proposal to Present at UNITED: The National Conference on School Leadership by Dec. 8Learn More