As we near the start of school I recognize my plate will become overflowing with responsibilities and my time will be very limited. The start of each school year is always special and enjoyable, even when there are still many unknowns related to COVID, or just the typical start to the year. As I reflected last week as I enjoyed my morning coffee looking at my calendar already filled with meetings, “to do” lists and much more; I remembered the most important part of the school year will be welcoming our staff back and taking the time to have connections with students and families. Yes, there will be so many demands upon my shoulders but the conversation is the relationship that will put people at the heart and center of my focus and work is most important. This is always important work but even more so as we try to work through another year with COVID mitigation measures and the varied emotions attached to that topic. Here are some key points to keep in mind why you put people and the conversations with them at the focus of your time and efforts despite a tremendous workload:
- Administratively we recognize we have many things to do, but culture is most important and it takes time (“Rome wasn’t built in a day”). It will be very important to “go slow to go fast” with your workload and welcome our staff back as they filter back in the buildings by having conversations with each of them, checking in on them and seeing how they are doing. It is with the utmost importance to make them feel like they are the most important person in the room when they are visiting with me. This sincere and genuine time with a staff member is hard during a school year so taking time early before the year starts to reconnect provides the framework for strong relationships.
- The more I talk with each staff member, it helps me to know them a little more about them including their passions, strengths and how I can help them develop as a leader. More importantly, it helps to strengthen the trust.
- As we talk, most often staff will share things they have thought about over summer and want to try this coming year. I love when staff have ideas and I want to make sure they know they have the “green light” to try new ideas when it is good for kids and have invested their time/effort into the work to innovate and improve. This support for their ideas helps to cement the concept of “I support their work”. I recognize that some of these practices may fail, others may be a win. In the big picture, when you take time to listen to an educator and support their ideas then you are creating the conditions where staff are developing as leaders. As an administrator, I remind myself that my role is “to develop my staff so they can become leaders and leave but to treat them well enough so they don’t want to leave”.
- Research often talks about data and using results to improve and yes, that is very important. But not everything can be counted as data. When you take the time to have a conversation with someone it makes them feel like they are part of a team. You cannot measure gratitude, teamwork and positivity but you can see it and feel it. So can our kids and parents too.
- I love walking the building the days leading up to staff returning to see teachers working in their rooms to get ready for the new year. It provides those moments of authentic conversations with staff that they will remember – when you just popped in to say “hi” and 30 minutes later you left but the words and discussion provided the uplifting feeling and passion for the entire year. Those things don’t happen unless I get out of my office and go to the people.
- When parents come into the office, that 1 minute conversation with them about their day or how I can help them may seem like a small gesture. But for a parent, they will remember that you took time out of your day to help them. That initial impression is what matters and what they will remember. It creates trust and confidence in you, as the leader, and the school. That trust is what allows schools and families to partner together to create uncommon experiences for kids.
- Seeing students in the school prior to the 1st day is always special. Special for educators as that is why we want into this field – to help youngsters improve and find success. For students, those moments when you stop by as you were walking down the hallway to check on them and when you said their name – well it creates a sense of “family” and that school does care about them as a person. The 30 second interaction in a hallway where you stopped to talk to them may be the highlight of their day and give them the reassurance that the school year will be a great one.
Educators must remember that creating positive change must be done with intentional efforts that transform the organization with a focus on the culture, learning and leading people. This starts with a leader who understands the importance of taking the time to visit with others as the “conversations is the relationship” and provides a focus on achieving excellence together. The intentional conversations creates the framework for success and builds a solid foundation that all school improvement efforts can rest upon. It also builds trust in our most important school resources – our people. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and share feedback upon “The conversation is the relationship.” Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org