As an elementary classroom teacher (mostly 5th Grade), I was always worried about being out sick or attending a conference for a bunch of reasons - I wasn't sure if the sub would cover all the work, if the children would make good choices (i.e.- would they behave) and honestly, I always missed my kids. The feeling was usually mutual (depending on the class or time of year) and upon my return my kids would ask me to never be absent again because it wasn't the same without me. I always treasured and valued this type of relationship with my kids because it was rooted in a mutual respect, concern and investment. My kids knew I would do anything for them and I valued that they would take risks with their learning for me (and themselves).
Once I made the transition to building administrator, I assumed that type of relationship wouldn't exist - not with the teachers (who really cares about their principal?) and not with the students (isn't it true that only the "bad kids" get to know the principal?). Well, after reading various works by one of my gurus, Todd Whitaker, one thing he preached stuck out in my mind... "When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold!" I don't know if I experienced that during my first couple of years as a principal because I literally felt like I was running around like a chicken without a head. But, over the years in my position as a Lead Learner (aka - principal) I realized that my every word, action and decision did have a direct impact on the entire educational community.
This is a huge responsibility but one that I have learned to value and treasure on so many levels and for so many different reasons. It has never been about "power" for me because it has always been about serving my community with one singular focus and goal - doing what is in the best interest of our children (students). This is what drives my work each and every day...
I engage in conversations with staff members to better understand what they are dealing with in their spaces and to consider how I can support them and help them enhance their own craft.
I visit classrooms every day and listen in on what the children are learning and doing so I can better understand the way teaching and learning unfolds in our school from room to room.
I try to model my expectations and lead by example (I try not to ask anyone to do something that I haven't already tried or would be willing to do).
I try and personalize professional development opportunities to offer staff members the chance to learn about things that interest them. This also allows us an opportunity to spotlight all the expertise in our building.
I try and learn from our staff, parents and kids - if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't know how to use Instagram, wouldn't have been exposed to different authors and teaching techniques or have a better understanding of different cultures and beliefs.
I email and chat with parents on a regular basis to integrate their perspectives, meet their needs and address their concerns (after all, we are taking care of their most precious "cargo" for at least 6 hours each day).
I have lunch with my kids on a regular basis so I can hear from them about what makes them happy at our school, what we are doing well and what we could be doing better.
Then, at the end of each day, I reflect on all the information I have taken in as a way to better serve our community and ensure that our goal has become, and remained, a common mission for all.
Now, have I met with success? Am I doing my job well? Have I developed positive relationships with all constituent members in our community? Does our school catch a cold when I sneeze? I am not 100% certain but what I do know is that I have been out over the last few days because my son had surgery and in that time, I have received numerous texts, emails and tweets letting me know that our school doesn't feel the same without me. In my book, that means that I am serving my community well by assessing and addressing their needs.
So, if you are a Lead Learner, Principal, Assistant Principal or any type of administrator serving a school community (or classroom teacher serving a group of kids), make sure you step back every once in a while and see what happens when you sneeze!