Guest post by Angie Adrean
After becoming superintendent of the Worthington City School District in 2015, Dr. Trent Bowers has stressed to our leadership team that we must connect, communicate, care, and lead. I have found this leadership philosophy particularly helpful in building a positive school culture that brings out the best in both staff and students. These four words aim to show everyone that they are valuable members of the school community and positive and meaningful partners in the educational process.
Connecting is the first step to getting the best out of our school community. By this I mean connecting our school to the greater Worthington community of residents, local groups, and businesses. Schools must understand the community and vice versa so we can better serve one another and build mutually beneficial relationships.
When a school and the community connect to support one another, everyone benefits. It has built trust and cooperation for our students and residents. The community views our students as young adults who care about the community and have a stake in its future. Our students volunteer for local organizations and work as interns for area businesses. And our students view our local residents as active members of the school who care about our students’ education. Our community members serve as guest speakers, provide job shadowing opportunities, and are involved in various outreach activities.
The next key to getting the best out of our school community is communication. Student voices are really at the core of the education process, and a motto at Worthington Kilbourne High School (WKHS) is “speak up and listen more.” This idea is embedded in our culture as we are intentional about providing time and attention for our students to know their voice matters. It is not uncommon to observe our classroom teachers and classified staff working with our students before and after school, at coffee shops, or during their academic prep periods.
Listening to student voices is paramount in helping students become partners in education. For me, the Principal Advisory Council (PAC) is one of the ways that I listen to student voices. The PAC is a forum where students are free to share their experiences—both good and bad—with the school. I’ve learned from the PAC that caring adults, exciting activities, and learning successes help make a positive school environment while early start times, homework without purpose, and the college application process create stress for students.
Students thrive and succeed in learning environments where they know that people care for them. I stress with my staff that students need to feel cared for and respected in the classroom. To instill this sense of classroom belonging, teachers make a concerted effort to give students positive feedback and verbal praise in the classroom. Also, they take an interest in students outside of the classroom. This could be as simple as talking to a student about a favorite sports team or going to watch a student perform in the school play. These efforts help students and teachers build positive relationships that enhance classroom engagement and student learning.
I want each and every student in my school to know that someone cares about them. We live, grow, and work in the same environment each and every day, and there are days where we spend more time with each other than we do with our own families. Whether it is a teacher, coach, academic assistant, secretary, or custodian, students need a caring adult in the school who believes in them.
The final part of this philosophy is leadership. Our students take pride in the multiple opportunities to lead in our school. They care about their learning, their growth as a learner, and the overall success of our school. I hope and believe that our students refer to WKHS as THEIR SCHOOL. We talk a lot about our “why” in our work as educators and my “why” is as simple as it sounds: for every school staff member, student, parent, and member of the school community to feel a sense of ownership in WKHS.
Connect, communicate, care, and lead. Certainly, my intention and hope is that we can all speak positively about these four qualities happening as an integrated part of what we do each and every day. These four qualities remind us what it takes to get the best out of our school community.
What do you do to get the best out of your school community? How do you connect, communicate, care, and lead?
Angie Adrean is the principal at Worthington Kilbourne High School in Worthington, OH. She is the 2016 Ohio Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @aadrean.