On the road the past two weeks, I had several reminders and conversations about the importance of relationships in our education work. How critical is it for students to know that adults will connect with them AND how meaningful it is for administrators to build relationships with teachers? I saw some great examples of trusting, respectful relationships and saw student faces light up because adults demonstrated their love and care for them. Here are a couple of examples that I want to share…
I had an very thoughtful discussion with a superintendent about the qualities that he was looking for in a new administrator (he remains nameless only because this position is not filled yet). As we talked about what the school needed and what he felt was most important, we circled back (actually, several times) to hiring someone who could truly take the time to build relationships with the staff. He understand the value and need for a new principal to take the time to get to know staff and to truly listen. Productive listening skills are a necessary leadership skill and finding ways to ensure that staff know we are listening and will respect and value their opinions goes a long way in building a positive school culture. We call it taking care of the staff so that they can feel good about taking care of the students. We want teachers and support staff to come to work feeling valued and cared for and too many times, in my opinion, we do not pay enough attention to the culture that a leader does (or, unfortunately, does not, create). This superintendent is on the right track to make his district great… as he said… he wants to move from good to great because good isn’t good enough for his students.
In a second school in Arkansas, I had a chance to observe another school improvement coach in action. Paula Maeker was working with teachers at an elementary school. In every conversation, the relationship of mutual trust that Paula had built with the teacher in her few short visits there was obvious to me. Amazingly enough, she had the same with many students in the school. One student in particular was misbehaving in class and Paula took the time to talk with the student and have him do some school work for her. His behavior quickly changed and he was fully engaged in his lesson…and it was good work. This kid went from the class problem to someone who could really perform. Just like in this picture taken at the Beyer Watch and Clock Museum in Zurich, the parts that make up our students are complex and many. Teachers who figure out the workings of their students, have much more success at meeting their learning needs.
My last stop on this two week road trip brought me tears and smiles. At Robert F Morehead Middle School in Arkansas, I was able to attend the Black History Month Program. Students performed dance, songs and read poems and several times I had tears in my eyes. There were beautiful, thoughtful and meaningful moments created by the students. The staff demonstrated their faith in these students by having them be the program. Several parents were there to watch and the smiles of pride and joy in their faces were priceless. I also had a chance to be at the school book fair and watch a young boy’s absolute excitement in picking out two complimentary books to take home to read. Adults were showing their belief in him and wrapping their arms around him with support and encouragement. His joy was our joy!
This week’s questions for reflection- How important are relationships in your work with staff and students? Do you need to think about your communication skills? What message are you sending with your interest (or lack of interest) in the people you work with? What might be a first step in improving your working and learning culture? Have a great week. I will see you in two weeks- this weekly blog is now a bi-weekly blog! Thanks for reading.