My first job in educational leadership was as an elementary principal of a K-6 building. I was only 8 years into my teaching career when the opportunity to lead my own building was offered to me. At that point, I naively thought I was equipped to take on this role with ease. I had taught in the classroom and served as a grade level leader and a literacy coach. I earned the degrees that said I was certified to do this work. As an avid reader, I consumed dozens of books on leadership. I analyzed assessment data and understood how to help students grow academically.
I was ready, right?
While I thought I was prepared in the traditional sense--leadership courses, advanced degrees, on top of current educational trends, in all honesty, I wasn’t. I thought that if I had all the credentials and the knowledge to do this job, then I’d be able to do it. There were many times over my ten years as a building principal that I was so busy trying to be what I thought a leader should be, that I overlooked the most important part--making connections with people.
How could I miss the chance to connect with the people in my building? Taking on the role of a leader can be overwhelming, no matter what level. We can lead from the classroom, as a teacher-leader being a champion for students. We can lead at the building level, as forward-thinking principals and coaches. We can also lead from the administrative level, promoting initiatives that will improve instruction and advance student learning.
So, whether you are leading from the classroom, the principal’s office or central administration, here are a few recommendations as you take steps to build your connections and strengthen relationships.
People Over Papers
It is easy in school leadership to get overwhelmed by emails, reports, and data. Quite literally, our desks can be covered in forms to sign off on, materials to read, and other non-essential papers. Don’t let that dictate your day. Spend your workday focused on what matters most; building connections with the people you serve.
A teacher stops by to see if you have a minute to chat? Don’t send them away because you have paperwork to complete. The papers can wait! A staff member in the hallway looks flustered? Don’t walk by. Take the time needed to connect with your people and let them know they matter. From the small conversation to an understanding smile, make time for your people. Prioritize people over papers.
Connections can’t be made from behind your desk. You have to get out of your classroom and out of the office and spend time with the people in your school. There are some simple things that you can add to your daily routine that can make a difference. Have coffee with a colleague. Grab breakfast in the cafeteria with the custodian. Enjoy lunch with the students. Walk the halls if you get a free moment. Take every opportunity to connect with others.
There are great school managers who are on top of every operational task and checking off every item from their list, but unless they are connecting with those they lead, they will not be successful in their role. There are great teachers who know their content inside and out but if they don’t create meaningful connections with their students, their effectiveness diminishes. Get out of your classroom. Get out of your office. Get out of your comfort zone and make a new connection with someone in your school.
Go “All In”
In my current role as an assistant superintendent, connections are critical. Sure, I could work from my office in central administration and attempt to lead, but I would not be effective. Instead, I choose to get out into our school buildings and make connections with students, teachers, and the school community. If I am going to take on a role as a leader, then I need to be willing to go “all in”, making every connection I can and building new relationships every day.
The “All In” mindset means that we all have to be willing to take risks within our roles. Sometimes that means that we get a little uncomfortable. Other times it means putting ourselves out there in a way that may make us feel vulnerable. When we are intentional about fostering connections in our schools, everyone benefits. Students will thrive. Teachers will feel valued. Parents will feel part of a positive school culture. The connections we make really matter. As classroom teachers, school or district leaders, we can impact our schools and the students we serve when making connections is our priority.
An educator for the last 23 years, Dr. Jacie Maslyk, has served as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and assistant superintendent. She is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom, Connect to Lead: Power Up Your Learning Network to Move Your School Forward (ISTE), Remake Literacy: Innovative Instructional Strategies for Maker Learning, Unlock Creativity: Opening a World of Imagination With Your Students and All In: Taking a Gamble in Education. Jacie is a featured blogger with Demco, Defined Learning, and Education Closet, as well as maintaining her own blog, Creativity in the Making at www.jaciemaslyk.blogspot.com . Jacie has a featured speaker for FETC 2020 and recently served as the keynote speaker for the Virginia Children’s Engineering Council annual conference. Jacie presents around the country and enjoys consulting with school districts and providing professional development for teachers.
All In: Taking a Gamble in Education
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