Search form

Paul Young's Young @ Heart

When the Power Goes Out

Electricity. It powers many of the conveniences in our lives. When it works, we take it for granted. It is an accessible, safe, reliable, and indispensable part of life. But when the electricity goes off, we are often left "powerless." It strikes me that principals are a lot like electricity.

The most dynamic principals among us are often described as having personalities that "electrify" a school community and provide the "power" that leads people to tackle problems and achieve great success.

As with electricity when principals work effectively, people tend to take us for granted. But when we are suddenly gone, not surprisingly, the absence of comfort, support, and conveniences we provide for staff and children can create a huge void.


A slight blink or flicker of the lights can create immediate anxiety in all of us. We rush to save data on computers, get out of elevators, find candles and flashlights, open window blinds, and prepare for the worst.

[content block] If children will be affected, there can be even greater concern -- even though most children cope well when the lights go out. But when the power and support they need from adults is shut off, all kids become at risk. Even our brightest children can suddenly lose their motivation to learn when the flame in their parents' marriage goes out or when the death of a loved one eliminates a lifeline of support. We all know that there is no darker form of obscurity than when a teacher gives up on a child.


When a blackout occurs, people look to their leaders to restore order and convenience in their lives. When students or schools fail, people look to powerful principals to turn things around. And principals who are "plugged in" are often the greatest power sources.

Just as it is with electricity, people might not always understand what we do or how we work, but they do expect us be reliable. When a principal can draw on a network of connections that provides information, direction, encouragement, and support, everyone stands to benefit. Principals who are able to make those vital connections are the ones who can create hope and faith in their school communities. They possess energy that inspires others to create and sustain the light required to get a school through the darkness. They restore power and order. They provide hope for all children.


Power sources become drained if they are not replenished. Effective principals and their mentors know this and connect often to recharge and refresh each other. The power of mentoring relationships, sustained by a vast network of connections of strong, vital leaders, helps us stand firm and emerge as leaders when the lights dim. In contrast, those principals who choose to work without reinforcement of their colleagues and a mentor and are like linemen who work without a two-way radio or a lifeline. Who would ever consider that risk? It leads to certain disaster.

Principals serve to sustain a bright light in the lives of every child and adult in our learning communities. But to sustain, we must shine. We can't let our power diminish. We need to stay plugged into the energizing support of a two-way connection, an effective mentoring partnership.

Paul Young, Ph. D., is the executive director of the West After School Center in Lancaster, Ohio. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National AfterSchool Association (NAA). He served as president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in 2002-2003 and retired from Lancaster City Schools in 2004. He is an author with Corwin Press,, and School-Age Notes. He and his wife, Gertrude, a music teacher, live in Lancaster.


Article by Paul Young
Copyright © 2008 Education World®