The Importance of Building Relationships

One of the things educators look forward to at the beginning of the school year is the chance to build new relationships with students, families, and staff, and deepen existing ones. In a roundtable discussion, three school leaders reflect on relationship-building, a central part of school leadership. These leaders are Jerel Bryant, the principal of George Washington Carver High School in New Orleans, LA, and co-facilitator of the Urban School Leaders Network; Benjamin Feeney, the principal of Lampeter-Strasburg High School in Lampeter, PA, and co-facilitator of the Aspiring School Leaders Network; and Katie Morgan, an assistant principal of Marysville High School in Marysville, OH, and co-facilitator of the Women in School Leadership Network.

Classroom Walkthroughs Lead to Rich Interactions

If you’re a principal who supervises 30 teachers and you visit three classrooms a day, that adds up to each teacher receiving about 18 informal visits per year. That’s a more productive alternative to infrequent, high-stakes principal observations, according to Justin Baeder, the director of The Principal Center. He explains why this approach can be so powerful:

  • The more you visit, the lower the stakes, and the more authentic and richer your feedback conversations become.
  • When you visit classrooms regularly, no individual walkthrough matters very much. If it’s a bad time, or if you get interrupted, that’s OK—you’ll be back soon enough.
  • Frequent classroom walkthroughs and feedback conversations give you a chance to truly know and listen to your staff, building professional relationships that can’t be forged any other way.

Stay Golden

S. Kambar Khoshaba, the principal of South County High School in Lorton, VA, has distilled his advice on how to deal with the stress of school leadership into two words: Stay golden. Simply put, resolve to be good no matter the situation, and always look for the right thing to do in any circumstance. Every principal is different, but Khoshaba shares some of what has worked for him:

  • On a personal level, that includes working out, getting massages, talking with family and friends, spending time alone and in fellowship with God, and reading for pleasure.
  • On a professional level, one way to keep priorities straight is to schedule regular time to interact with students because that’s a great source of “emotional fuel,” whether speaking with them in the halls, at lunchtime, or in the classroom.
  • Another way to maintain priorities is by being in the classroom regularly to give teachers meaningful feedback on their lessons.

Leading for College and Career Access

Postsecondary preparation is embedded in many high schools’ mission statements, but no one apart from school counselors has it listed in their official job description. Reid Higginson, the director of policy research at College Access: Research & Action (CARA), and Bennett Lieberman, the principal of Jackson Hole High School in Jackson, WY, outline six strategies to help schools implement a comprehensive college and career approach:

  • Identify a champion for postsecondary access.
  • Create a program instead of relying on one person.
  • Articulate a vision worth working toward.
  • Follow strengths and secure small wins.
  • Connect the dots: data points and human voices.
  • Call in the community.