8 Elementary School Rules to Guide Administrator Thinking
As I was walking through classrooms at Thomas Jefferson the other day, I stopped in a first grade teacher's classroom. I hadn't noticed these eight posters hanging on the wall before but for some reason I noticed them that day (I'm going to pretend that they were new and that it's not a case of me not being very observant). Anyway, as I was looking at them, it become clear that these posters identified eight simple rules to guide student interactions in that classroom. As I sat there and thought more about them, I realized that in these eight simple rules were some very important guidelines for administrators to follow in their relationships with staff members. They're probably applicable to relationships with all stakeholders but here I will focus only on administrator/teacher/staff relationships.
1) Encourage Others: A quick word of encouragement can mean a great deal to one of your teachers or staff members and is always welcome. You can always find something to praise someone for and if you can't, you aren't looking very carefully. And don't forget, we shouldn't just praise outcomes. Effort is just as worthy of praise as outcomes, perhaps more-so. Praising effort encourages risk-taking, doing things in new and different ways. A short handwritten note or face to face are my preferred methods of praise, but if time will not permit it, a quick email will do in a pinch. It is, as they say, the thought that counts.
2) Listen: When engaging in conversation, remember to listen as much if not more than you talk. I think it was Mark Twain who said "God gave us two ears and one mouth so we will listen twice as much as we talk". People want to be heard. It lets them know that they and their thoughts are important to you.
3) Take Turns: Each one of your staff members has a special gift and leadership skills you can tap into. Don't hesitate. Most staff members want to be trusted with leadership responsibilities. Being the boss doesn't mean you have to be in charge of every little thing. The best leaders know when to let go and whom to let go to.
4) Think Before Acting: Let's be honest. As administrators we have a hundred different things coming at us at once most days and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Before we do or say something that we could later regret, let's stop, take a breath and THINK. Talk it through with a trusted colleague. Remember, what could seem a small slight or offense to us could be large in the mind of someone else. I love my job and I can't think of anything else I'd rather do. But it does exhaust me. Daily I remind myself of the best advice my dad ever gave me: "Never make an important decision when you're upset or tired." I've always remembered that, and it has always served me well.
5) Use Kind Words: Even when you are upset, there is no excuse to be rude or disrespectful to someone. Understand that people are emotional beings and when they are demonstrating their upset and you seem to be the target, most of the time they are not really upset with you. Using kinds words, even in the face of difficulty, can never, ever steer you wrong.
6) Talk It Over: Don't let things fester. If there is something that you need to talk to someone about, don't dilly-dally about it. Talk it over with them respectfully and with a solution mindset. If there is something you are unsure about doing, talk it over with a trusted friend or colleague. It's amazing how sometimes saying things out loud can help you crystallize your own thinking, not only about what you should do, but how you should do it.
7) Be Quick to Forgive: People are going to hurt you. It's true that as administrators we tend to have a bit thicker skin than the average Joe or Jane, but things can still hurt us. Don't hold on to hurt feelings. You do have a choice in the matter. Make the choice to forgive the person who hurt you and move on. At the end of the day you will be happier for it and your relationships will be healthier.
8) Share: Share your talents, your energy, your thoughts, and your passion with your staff. I'm not saying you should be a know-it-all, but as a leader, you have things to share. Don't be shy about it. More than that, however, share leadership. Your staff wants responsibility. Give it to them. What you get back will be infinitely more valuable than what you give up.
I'm a big believer that "it's all about relationships". By encouraging others, taking turns, listening, thinking before acting, using kind words, talking it over, being quick to forgive, and sharing, you will be building relationships in meaningful ways, improving your school culture, and ultimately making it a better place for your students. And that, my friends, is what it's all about.