I recently read a tweet by Dr. Bryan Pearlman detailing eight bad leadership traits. The accompanying graphic spoke to poor communicators and leaders who lack integrity, trust, and other important traits. But what tugged at me the most was the idea that poor leaders were “unsupportive.” How could any leader be unsupportive of their staff or their students?
Even so, it’s taken me over 10 years in my position to find the right balance in supporting staff so they can fully support students. To that end, I carve out specific time through the year so that staff feel supported and can pass that along in the course of their day.
When you are in your first years of administration in a building, things move fast. So many moving pieces are in play that need to get done in the course of a day, and you are doing whatever you can to keep your head above water. Listening to, not just hearing, every conversation as you work through each day sometimes becomes daunting. But not only do the students have needs (as you once had in the classroom), your teachers also have needs that must be met as well. Here’s what I’ve learned about supporting their needs with intention.
Have an Open-Door Policy
Have you heard the old adage that you cannot have an open-door policy as an administrator because you will never get out of your office? At the beginning of my tenure, that was absolutely true. I felt held up in my office and at times wanted to hold up a white flag in distress. But everyone that walks in wants to be heard. A staff member might be there to simply get approval to be out for an appointment, or the conversation could involve a life-changing event. As an administrator in the building, it is important to be accessible. Supporting staff in this way helps you to better understand one another. It also reminds us that everyone is an individual, and each of those individuals has a story of their own.
I have found that when I am out of the office and in the hallways or classrooms, the conversations that are thrown at me are short and to the point yet very meaningful. I can work on the move, taking notes on my computer using my standing/portable desk. Getting out of the office and into the hallways or classrooms also helps to lessen the seemingly “urgent” issues that you might hear if you were in your office. You support teachers and students when you are visible and you model the behaviors you want to see.
Offer Supportive Opportunities
About five years ago, I began offering opportunities for staff to support one another. This was not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. But with a little creativity, we’ve continued this tradition and it has proven to seep into our relationships with students and their success.
On the first few days back after summer break, during our setup time, staff members are given several options for team-building activities to bring them closer together. These activities are as simple as frisbee golf, go-cart racing, bowling, paint night, and more.
While most of these activities are off campus, I require a few things from them while they are out:
- They must take a selfie
- They must take an action shot (hopefully of them having fun)
- They must take a team/group photo
My staff members send these photos to me via text or email. Now, I love to make movies using iMovie, so I put them all into a video with a song, and voila! A new memory is made and captured for a lifetime, not to mention the memories and relationships built while staff are out supporting one another in these activities. It’s a simple technique to support our staff in the area of self-care so they begin the year rejuvenated and connected.
If You Support Them, They Will Stay…and Grow!
My reaction to Pearlman’s bad leadership traits was to say, “that’s what makes good people jump ship!” If you create a supportive environment for your teachers and staff, you will reap the benefits tenfold. Not only will the teachers feel supported and appreciated, but the trickle-down effects that occur in the classroom also can be astronomical. Student engagement will grow along with student achievement.
As an administrator, model what you want to see happening in your school. When we support one another, staff members want to stay where they are, and students get the support they need in the classroom.
Robyn Harris is principal of Whaley School in Anchorage, AK. She is the 2018 Alaska Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@WhaleySchool), Facebook (Whaley School), and her blog (whaleyschool.weebly.com).