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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, however, 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, there is plenty of scientific research out there linking work that demands this kind of cognitive flexibility with exhaustion and so-called ‘burnout’.

Want to find out some more facts about how the everyday life of a principal can affect the brain? Read on…

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

For most people, empathy comes fairly naturally and can be used in situations when friends or family members are in distress. Principals, however, tend to have empathetic qualities that are 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 a vast array of problems such as student conflicts, budgetary constraints, or staff shortages. According to research, this kind of problem-solving can strengthen memory-making capacities 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 are able to pass on positive traits such as compassion and the ability to bond with others.

What’s more, positive interactions have the potential to release a brain chemical known as oxytocin that produces feelings of happiness and warmth. An empathetic principal who is willing to build a friendly staff environment, then, 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

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

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