Last week I was preparing for the first day of school and I realized that this year is my 20th year in education. I spent the first five years of my career in the classroom and I’ve spent the next 15 years as a school administrator. Since that first time I stepped into a classroom 20 years ago, some things have not changed much in education. Parents continue to want their children to be safe at school, they continue to want their children to get a great education, and lastly, I still walk into school as excited about teaching and learning as I was when I first started.
What has changed in education, specifically for me, is my understanding of relationships, and who/what I need to be a champion for as I lead a school. As a teacher, I always knew that the relationships with my students and parents were paramount. Regular communications with families, really getting to know my students, and providing high levels of engagement were all things I did that helped me be successful as a teacher. In addition to those things, I was reflective about my work and always wanted to improve, learn more, and do better than I had done previously. I loved teaching and never thought that I would some day lead an entire school.
Over the past few years, what I have learned about leading a school and my own reflections have continued to help me become a better leader. Despite all the things I did well as a teacher, and having a pretty good EQ (emotional quotient), my daily observations and reflections have made it apparent that relationships among staff and between staff and school leaders greatly impact what happens in the school house. Building trust, being visible, having open and honest communications, fostering creativity, sharing a common vision and mission, and collaborating at high levels are all threaded throughout the work of a school and greatly impact how adults do their work and ultimately affect outcomes for children. Twenty years ago, collaboration was not a focus in schools, leaving me to work primarily alone, and not being able to engage in some of the other high leverage behaviors I mentioned previously.
As a contemporary school leader, my job is to build relationships for the benefit of children. I’m relied upon by staff and parents to create a vision and mission around which our school is focused that will lead to greater outcomes for children, both socially and emotionally. My job is to provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate, and to experiment and take creative risks, without fear. While providing those opportunities, my other job is to cheer people on and visibly see the good work they are doing. As all of this is taking place, communication is a common thread through everything. Frequent, clear communications to families and staff help keep people informed and provide opportunities for them to communicate with me. Communications, whether easy or difficult, are always open, honest, and respectful. Collaboration must not only happen among grade level teams of educators, it must happen across all parts of the school. Every adult in a school has or should have opportunities to collaborate within the school, thus, improving, learning, and growing. Again, all of these behaviors are purposefully done for the benefit of children.
This week as my entire faculty met for our back to school meeting, we showed a video that my assistant principal found on Ted.com. The video was from a talk that Rita Pierson, a forty year educator gave, sharing her belief that every student needs a champion. As a principal and educational leader, I believe that every student and every staff member needs a champion. We [educational leaders] must be able to connect with teachers and students on a real, human and personal level in order to move schools forward, navigate the changes that modern education is ushering in, and most importantly, to help children learn and succeed.
As many of us enter into our schools year, and as we all navigate our work during this great time of change, I will ask you, “How will you build relationships this year?” and “Who will you be a champion for during the year?”.