On October 1, I celebrated being a principal for 90 days! Someone said to me “Are you counting down the days?” No, I’m counting up the days! Every day it’s something new. It’s a cliche but it is true. Every day I have been presented with something new to consider, a new problem to solve, perspective to consider. And it’s all good!
No really! It is all good! The issues are all good! Now, hear me well. It is NOT all easy. But if I were looking for easy, I would never have gotten into education! Education is a people business. It is customer service. In an industry based on interpersonal interactions, you must learn to deal with real people, real challenges, real successes, real mistakes. I spend many minutes during my days trying to encourage people, make people smile, offer words of inspiration, sharing a story, expressing empathy, and listening to people’s hearts and hoping to share some of my own. As a new principal, I believe that I don’t have a choice as to whether or not to invest the time into building trusting relationships with my staff. It’s not perfect and they may not even realize that is what I am trying to do through certain actions I take. But every moment that I get an opportunity to connect on a personal level with one of them, I count as a win in the relationship building department. My hope is that in doing so, I am modeling the importance of teachers building relationships with their students and their families, especially when we are not able to be physically present with one another.
But, the lack of physical connectedness is a heavy burden that many of my teachers are carrying daily. They long for the times they would hug that sensitive little soul, high five that brilliant scholar, fist bump that star athlete. They want to talk with me, their new leader and biggest cheerleader, face to face, to sense my humanity and feel its connectedness to their own, to build the trust that comes not only with time but also with proximity. What I am trying to express through whatever way our interactions come, is that I am carrying that weight too. I know that by this time in the school year, I would “normally” have known something about every staff member, to have seen every teacher teaching at least once, to have identified my “special young friends” who need extra love from the principal now and then, to have connected with some of those family members who are willing to dive head first into supporting the school. But, that’s not where we are right now. It’s not where we will be for this seemingly untenable amount of time.
How do I fill the gaping holes that social distancing is creating in our school lives? How do I establish relationships, build trust, maintain a collaborative culture, alleviate the stress and anxiety of teachers brought on by the circumstances and get through all of the big and little tasks and projects that are fired off at me each day?
Here’s what I am working on to chip away at the answers to these questions, but I am daily seeking ideas and suggestions:
- Daily emails that begin with a thought for the day/quote/saying and list important info to know for the day, i.e. meetings, updates, etc.
2. Weekly Website Posts for Staff only with resources and information (Both 1 & 2 are to minimize the number of all staff emails throughout the week)/ compiling resources on the website for easier access
3. Using Calendly to offer one-on-one, group or team meetings, where teachers can request me to visit informally or for a formal observation
4. Starting meetings with a “temperature/weather check” or some other quick engagement activity to see how people are feeling
5. Asking staff to lead us in mindfulness activities and hold restorative circles
6. Acknowledging how people are feeling and allowing them the time and space to feel/Hosting listening sessions – Staff talk, I listen, take notes, then take action
7. Weekly videos for students that teachers can show to help students get to know me (In process-really working on how to develop content for this and taking the time to record)
8. Practicing authenticity and vulnerability – sharing bits and pieces of what is hard for me in whatever moment
9. Encouraging collaboration amongst teams and attending Professional Learning Team (PLT) meetings
10. I have candy in my office and in the main office. Everybody needs a piece of chocolate sometimes to get through a day. I’m just sayin’.
By no means is this list exhaustive. It is rather barely scratching the surface of what I’d like to be able to continue to do to build relationships with all of the stakeholders in my care. The need for human connection, longing for belonging, reaching for relationship is real and urgent and imperative. This virtual environment is stretching us to the nth degree to get creative, to seek support, to affirm the good that we are doing. We must continue to make it a priority to stay in relationship with one another in schools and in life, to maintain connections as authentically as possible, to give each other grace as we fail and succeed in doing so.