Connectedness - Little Things That Make A Difference
A few weeks ago, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in Dr. Ziegler’s blog series “Lessons From Young School Leaders”. I am very humbled at the opportunity to share some of my thoughts among this group of great educators. In full disclosure, I am the kind of person that tends to jump in head first to try out new things and learn. I started thinking about what’s important to me. What, as a young leader, I have to offer. After all, I have only been a principal for eight months and I still have much more to learn. As I thought about what ignites me, what I’m passionate about and reflected on what has been important to me this first year, the word connectedness kept coming to mind.
I looked up the word because, since English is my second language, I always triple check words that sound “funny” to me and because I was curious about its definition. The definition provided by my search in Google that resonated with me was: “A feeling of belonging to or having an affinity with a particular person or group.” Connectedness, as it relates to my first year in the principalship, is a series of little things that I intentionally do throughout my days to build relationships, continue to develop professionally and have home and work balance. I have found that these little things are making a big difference.
This year I have learned very quickly that I need to be intentional with my time. I feel very strongly that there are moments each day that principals or any school leader must take advantage of to connect with students, parents, staff and colleagues. Connecting with the people I care about and serve allows me to strengthen our learning community and my own professional and personal growth.
The precious hours that I spend with my family quality. We sit down as a family for dinner, we read books and play with our 5-year-old. I am fully connected to the little moments. It reminds me of what I want every child in my school to have: A connected, loving adult that pays attention to their needs. Also, each week I dedicate time to workout. This is something that I love to do! Something that disconnects me from the world for an hour and focuses on my physical strength, form and clearing out my mind. This helps me refocus, let out stress and be energized to tackle things at home and at work. All this is intentional. It is hard to disconnect from work when at home. To be connected at home, I have to disconnect from other things so that I can be present in each moment. Yes, it’s hard, but it makes a difference.
In Unmistakable Impact, Jim Knight, talks about developing “a partnership approach” to improving schools. I truly believe this is important in order to create positive relationships and conditions to sustain and nurture a supportive learning culture and school environment. I take the time to connect by listening. Every day I find moments to have one-to-one conversations with my teachers, students, and parents. I want to find out what they are thinking and how they are feeling about school and life. I block out time to be outside talking to parents during student arrival and/or dismissal. I spend most days in the cafeteria with our students during lunchtime; walking around and talking with them - listening. I walk around the building before and after school when I’ll catch staff members working in their classrooms and pop my head in to say “hello”. This is how I stay connected during a busy day or week. I am able to notice more. I notice when staff members go above and beyond their work duties. Then, I make it a point to celebrate them by sending them a “Shout-out” on my weekly communications. I notice students that come to school smiling and give them a high five. I notice students that come into school troubled and I ask about their day. These little things make me visible, accessible and approachable. These little things are making an impact in how we discuss our students, strengthen communication with our parent community and support learning.
One of the most impactful resources I’ve come across in these past couple of years is the power of being part of Professional Learning Networks (#DENchat, @DiscoveryEd, #JoyfulLeaders, #Momsasprincipals). I connect to the education world through social media and by being active in networks that complement what I value in my life. Twitter and Facebook have become my platforms of choice to be connected. I take notice of what other colleagues are doing in their schools and I help celebrate them. And yes! I steal ideas too! The wonderful thing about being connected to social media is the amount of resources educators share; anything from lesson plans, teaching strategies and PD ideas. Just recently I saw a picture of a principal on Twitter that uses a cart as a mobile office to be out in the hallways of her school and still get paperwork done! What a great way to be visible, accessible and connected! I notice educators from all over the globe working passionately to improve teaching, learning, and leadership practices. Being connected to social media allows me to “see and listen” to others’ stories, learn from them and model what I want for my students: The world as our classroom.
This first year as a principal I continue to learn about the people I serve, support, lead and love. Belonging to the world of education is a privilege. As leaders, the communities that we serve, support and influence on a personal and professional level, are too important to not be connected to the individuals that are part of them. Everyday day I remind myself to be intentional with my time, do what I love to do and don’t miss the little moments that make a big difference in people’s lives.
Ania Figueroa - I began my career at Forest Elementary School CCSD62 Des, Plaines IL in 2004 where I taught Kindergarten and 1st grade in Bilingual Education. After 9 years at Forest, I moved to Plainfield School in CCSD62 where I was a K-5 EL Resource teacher and K-5 Special Education Resource teacher. The past two years, I served CCSD62 in the role of Coordinator for Second Language Programs where I supported different teams across the district with programmatic and instructional practices as well as our Bilingual Parent Community. This year I took on the principalship of Forest Elementary School, where my career first started. I am a proud mom and wife. Lifelong-Learner always looking to learn from new experiences, to connect with people and find joy in all that I do.
Follow Ania on Twtiter at @learnandteach04