When I first entered the profession of teaching, I dreamed of nothing more than sharing everything I knew with the children placed before me. I imagined all the many ways in which I would ignite in them a fire for learning that would last a life time. I believed that everyone around me, had this same passion; and that each of us understood clearly our purpose. We were all here for the kids and we would not let anything get in the way of us giving them our very best every single day.
As I sit here today at my desk and try to convince myself that what made this noble profession so attractive to me has not been lost on today's educators, I am reminded of the common thread that I have found weaved into every interview experience I have been apart of lately. In fact, it appears as if this one phenomenon has found its way into the fabric of every educational institution in the country; and as of late, has become the most important assignment administrators must successfully address if they desire to improve student achievement.
By now you should have an idea of what I have been talking about but refusing to name for the past two paragraphs. Yes, I am talking about school culture. But more important than that, is my willingness to be open about how I failed to develop a positive one and how some of my behaviors contributed to the development of a very negative and toxic school environment.
In an ideal world, adult relationships would fade into the background as we set aside our differences for the sake of the children. We would agree to disagree and go back to the business of instilling and developing in our kids the skills necessary to effectively compete in our ever shrinking global community. However, because we do not live in an ideal world, this is not the case for many new administrators and this was especially not the case for me in my first tenure as principal.
So what went wrong you might ask? Well, the first thing I did wrong was not take into consideration that my role as instructional leader required that I care for the hearts and minds of my teachers just as much as I did my students. They needed to know that I saw them as individuals. That I had as much interest in knowing who they were as I did my students. And as their leader, I needed to know what motivated them, what concerned them and what they desired to know more about. However, because I did not take the time to do so, I found myself dreading to go to the place the that once gave me such joy.
But have no fear, my friend, there is hope for you! Especially if you allow my experience to help you decide to make the heart of every person in your charge your number one concern. And never, ever forget that, "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Zig Ziglar
In an effort to help you avoid the pitfall of creating a negative school environment, I want to leave you with these few but simple strategies:
- Use the person's name.
- In the course of any conversation seek to learn one new thing about the person you are speaking with and if at all possible, reference this information in a future conversation.
- If you are interrupted while working, stop what you are doing and give the person in front of you your undivided attention. At that moment, you will make them the most important person in your world and remember, whatever you are doing can wait.
- Be visible. You can't lead from behind the desk. They need to see you and they need to know that you are genuinely interested in what's happening in their classrooms.
- Read the school, discover its persona. This can be done by talking to the storytellers of the building. These are usually the people who have been there the longest. Once you find the story, do everything you can to hold on to all that is good and for those areas you would like to change, invite others to help you rewrite the script.
Until next time...