This post is co-written with Adam Welcome who is Principal at Montair Elementary School in Danville, CA.
As the educators in a school building, it is often easy to focus on the adult issues and needs within the community because that is the lens we use to look at things on a regular basis. Are our kids at the center of what we do? Yes. But, are we really looking at things through the eyes of our children? Are we getting down to their level (literally) and looking at things as they see them so we can better understand and appreciate their needs? Do we know what they see? What they feel? If not, then the time has come for us to refocus our lens and reconnect with our kids… possibly by getting on the carpet!
How do you connect with kids? How do you get to know your staff? Building relationships with students and adults (teachers, aides, custodians, secretaries, etc.) on your site is paramount.
First off, visit classrooms every single day (assuming you are in the building) and have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening. You can’t support teachers in their work and students in their learning from your office while responding to email. You must be present and that starts with classroom visits. With that being said, visiting classrooms is the first step - a critical one - but just the first one!
Step two involves understanding the difference between being visible and being engaged as educational leaders. Just walking in and out of classrooms to be seen without much interaction does not contribute to the building of relationships - does it make you visible? Sure… on some level. Does it make you an engaged leader who is advocating for the needs of your students and staff based on what you learn from seeing healthy relationships rooted in respect and trust? No because just being visible isn’t enough to really connect with kids and staff!
We need to ask questions; we need to listen to what is happening; we need to be engaged; we need to connect; we need to offer feedback and not in a judgemental/evaluatory way… no, no, no - that is not going to work. We just need to connect and build those relationships and the healthiest way to do that is to be present, to be visible, to be engaged and to be a good listener. Stronger relationships will take the work deeper and farther in the long run, investestment now pays huge dividends later!
Have you ever had that Principal that stood in the back of the room with a clipboard? Didn’t talk with anyone, wrote notes down furiously and then left the room? That’s not the best way move a school forward and build an innovative mindset. Leaders must be on the ground floor of their school, hanging on the carpet with kids is the place to be. There really is no better vantage point than that of the children. We see what they see; we hear what they hear; we feel what they feel; and most importantly, we understand what they need and what they get as learners. Ultimately, that is our job - to be the person who removes the roadblocks and helps the students and staff best meet their needs by providing them access.
Don’t be that disconnected evaluator in the back of the room with the clipboard! We are not dealing with factories, conveyor belts and widgets… we are dealing with learners and teachers… we are dealing with people who are looking to learn and grow… we are dealing with our community who needs to trust us as the educational leaders who are seeing and understanding things through their eyes!
Be that leader with your smartphone in hand, taking photos of students in action. Tweet those moments to share with your community and make each day at school open house. Flatten the walls of your school and create high levels of transparency between the school and the surrounding community! When parents see you engaged, see you on the ground floor connecting with kids on the carpet, they can see how much you care and how your focus is on the children. A stronger community with everyone on the same page sharing a common vision, is a more powerful team for our kids.
If not us, then who? If not now, then when? The leader of a school must innovate, bring new ideas, modeling that learning comes first, see where the gaps are, fill those gaps with solutions and move the team forward.
Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry in the early 1900s! By being involved, being hands-on, being innovate, not listening to the naysayers, by breaking away from the mold and building his own road. Henry Ford was on the ground floor of his production line, his hands were dirty, he communicated with his employees, and he built a massive enterprise. He wasn’t sitting in his office disconnected, he was the change, he made the change, he was on the “carpet” connecting with people and igniting the change!
Check out the new #principalsinaction hashtag happening on Friday’s. Leaders from around the country will be Tweeting and sharing what they do at school! Be on the ground floor, be engaged, be involved in teaching/learning and watch your school grow!