Dr. James Comer once wrote, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship”. I believe that this quote can be revised to reflect no significant impact occurs without a significant relationship. In order to effectively bring about profound, positive, and consistent change within your school community one needs to have a profound, positive, and consistent relationship with each member of that community. Having recently moved from the classroom into administration this was one of the most important lessons I have learned. We cannot bring about that change in the organization without first learning about the people of the organization; their mindsets, their philosophies and what makes that school special.
Building Relationships with Teachers and Staff
An educational leader must be intentional about building personal relationships with each member of the faculty and staff. Our teachers are our frontline in the classroom and while they are building relationships in their class, we need to focus on building a relationship with them. Being new in an organization, we need to devote specific time and energy to building those relationships so that they know they can trust, relate, and communicate with us. This is obviously a challenge, but if those you are leading can’t relate to you, can’t trust you and are not comfortable communicating with you are you really leading? It is tough at times to take those conversations from work-centric to personal but in order to have a profound impact on those we are leading, they need to know that we truly care. Don’t simply be a boss of people who dictates and demands what your staff does, be a leader of people who coaches your staff to find success and encourages them on their way to doing so. Our staff could be our biggest proponent or biggest opponent when we are attempting to bring about change, we need their buy-in to our philosophies, our vision and our mindset. My challenge is this, take time to speak to your faculty and staff and build a relationship with them, speak to them about non-work related things and challenge yourself to enter as many classrooms as possible throughout the day.
Building Relationships with Students
Another key relationship that educational leaders need to truly focus on is the relationship that exists between ourselves and our students. Serving as an assistant principal I have the luxury of handling the majority of the discipline that occurs in our school. I believe that our first line of defense when dealing with any sort of disciplinary action is a proactive relationship with each of our students. Be present in the hallways before school, at breakfast, or between classes. Be intentional about getting out of your office and entering classrooms and letting students know that you truly care about them. Join in the basketball game in the gymnasium, or pick up a colored pencil and draw during art class. A key to a positive school community is truly focusing on what matters most, and that is our students. If we take the time to create positive relationships with our students the conversations we must have when an incident does occur will also have a more profound impact on our students. I hold myself to a personal commitment that every conversation with a student who has a discipline referral starts and ends with a handshake and the question “how are you doing today”. We cannot define our students by the choices that they make, nor can we equate their choices to their person. I challenge you to take time to be intentional about getting to know students on a personal level and greet each student with respect no matter the situation.
Building Relationships with Parents
Having served as a learning support teacher before I became an administrator I had a solid understanding of the importance of forming relationships with parents. This concept has only been further solidified throughout these past few months as an educational leader. The role of a parent is instrumental in the success of their children. I believe that as a school administrator we need to do what we can to welcome parents into our school and involve them in the education of their children. In my first year teaching, serving as a learning support teacher, I saw the great detriment that a lack of parent involvement can cause and I vowed from that point on that I would always take the initiative to reach out and contact parents as much as possible. I try to reach out to a group of parents each day via email or phone to simply provide insight into what we are doing as a school and proactively discuss their child and their child’s education. It is very easy to be a reactive administrator and to only contact parents when the need arises, my challenge is this: take time out of your day to involve the parents of your students. This will look different depending on the level you are an administrator at, it may be via a phone call, an email, a newsletter, whatever it takes!
In order to bring about a profound change within our school community, we need to be intentional about building positive and lasting relationships with those we lead. Our role as an educational leader is a very unique one. In not too many other positions do we have the ability to impact young people, adults and an entire school community. Each of us come into this position with ideas, a vision and a mission and will not be able to achieve that without the buy-in of the school community. We need to encourage our students, teachers, faculty and staff to grow, achieve and dream. We need to equip them with the materials, processes and ability to do so. Also we need to empower them to become lifelong learners who are committed to impacting not only our community but to whichever area they are destined to serve. My last challenge is this; take time to focus on the whole child, the whole staff member, or the whole parent. Get to know these people, invest in them, and encourage them to grow. Once we have built this relationship positive, profound and lasting change can occur.
Noah R Stachelek - Noah is a Middle School Assistant Principal in Gettysburg PA. He has served in education for 6 school years. He has taught Middle School learning support and High School learning Support. He and his wife have one daughter and live near Gettysburg.