Have you checked your connections lately? Admit it. We all freak out just a little bit when facing the loss of power on our smart phones, iPods, tablets, and other electronic devices…as if the world is going to end (or something much worse). However, I am not talking about checking Internet connections, but the connections with the people who encompass our school communities.
What exactly is happening with those people who surround our school environments, especially when we are not plugged in to the key relationships? Relationships are the connections that make this whole thing called “school” work. Parents, students, teachers, support staff, and administration are all intricate pieces of a human puzzle that is very fluid and ever changing.
Yes, they Matter!
You might be the really well-researched leader in your district, maybe there is a hand full of degrees hanging on the wall, or you might be the most extremely organized protocol guru to ever run a school. So what? Is that what really matters? What makes the school machine, not such a machine? Relationships…
Schools need to be a place of creativity, inspiration, and nurturing. They are the place where we expect talents to mature and children to grow. Relationships are the key ingredient keeping school culture positive and engaging. Relationships are what connect people and build trust. Relationships are the glue that binds us together.
Having authentic connections with your staff and community opens many doors of opportunity for you, the school leader. Take the time to build trust, and people will tend to believe you and, more importantly, to believe in you. Once connected, people will open up and tell all the happenings in the school, the struggles of students, and the craziness of their own lives. As connections with the school leader grow, empowerment blossoms. Transparency, authenticity, and connectivity are vital characteristics of successful relationships and a successful school environment.
Selling the Power of Relationships…
When making the dive, head first and blindfolded, into school leadership ten years ago, my first school leadership mentors sold me on the power of relationships. I had read somewhere that the most important thing I could do was build relationships. There was, however, no relationship handbook to read. Rather, my mentors were authentic and personable in their approach with me. They took the time to reach out to me as a person first, and then as a learner and leader.
I became an assistant principal at the ripe old age of twenty-nine, and I was a bit green. I consider myself extremely lucky that those first two mentors were tuned into relationship building. As a newbie, I was more than eager to test my skill. I met with my principal once a week for building issues and the deputy superintendent once a month for curricular issues. More often than not, we talked about life issues. How is your wife? How are the kids? How is your back? Is the drive bothering you? Knowing that these two individuals cared about me as an individual was all the motivation I needed to make sure I succeeded.
When we weren’t discussing my life (or their lives); both of these talented individuals would lay out situations for me to ponder. We would verbally walk through them; discussing and critiquing. This helped me understand the human element: what was really going on in the child's life, what this teacher was dealing with at home, what the previous school experience of that parent had been. Both were excellent role models in being compassionate with the person, but assertive with the situation.
You can't be superman to everyone, but there is almost certainly someone who needs your help right now - a librarian, a bus driver, a parent, a child, a teacher. Cancer, death, pregnancy, finances, transient students, job loss, surgeries, and on and on. Life happens! Our buildings are full of life, and we must embrace that life!
If you feel you haven’t been connecting well lately, try the following ways to quickly get reconnected:
- Go talk to someone with whom you haven’t interacted with lately and ask them how they are doing.
- Commit random (or purposeful) acts of kindness. There is always that one person with whom you can’t help but feel irritated. Make it your mission to win them over.
- Teach someone to solve their own problem. Lay out the scenario, and have them walk through the choices. Suggest some different perspectives to analyze.
- Be open and honest with the people in your school community. Build a rapport by doing what you say you are going to do and being who you say you are.
- Probably the most important thing you can do is listen to others. Be present. Turn away from all technology and give your full attention.