Saturday, August 8, 2015

At the Heart of Every Great Administrator...

How Can We Build Relationships

For me August 19 marks not just the beginning of a new school year but an entirely new adventure as I begin my journey as an assistant principal at a new school in a new district. While I have specific goals, like improving general education-special education teacher collaboration, my ultimate goal is to build relationships with students, teachers, staff and the community. I strive to be visible, make myself accessible to everyone and, most importantly to listen and learn from everyone. 

Building Relationships with Students
As an administrator, one of my favorite times of the day has always been lunch because it affords me the opportunity to interact and converse with students, but building relationships extends way beyond the 30 minute lunch period. It begins by greeting students as they enter the building, whether it's as they get off the buses or saying hello in the hallways and it doesn't end until my head hits the pillow. Student relationships are at the heart of everything we do. 

Of course, all administrators aim to spend time in classrooms to provide critical feedback for teachers, but it also presents a great opportunity to build relationships with students. Instead of  simply observing the teacher and learning, I use this time to interact with students by asking pointed questions, participating in class, and taking pictures. Classroom observations are also a great leaping point for future conversations."What did you do after I left?" "How'd the rest of the class go?" "Tell me what happened after I left." 

I view any and every interaction, whether it's a disciplinary referral, running into them at the grocery story or even a brief interaction on Twitter, as an opportunity to forge relationships. But I also believe it's important to be create deliberate occasions to interact with students. There are many ways to do this, whether it is through positive referrals, attending extra-curricular activities or applauding a student's effort or accomplishment with a hand-written note, a phone call or just a pat on the back. Through it all, I strive to create relationships and an environment that's positive and supportive, where above all else, students know I care about them. 

Teachers Deserve Feedback and So Much More 
As an administrator, I understand that I can convey my values explicitly through observations and, more importantly, with the conversations that follow. I want teachers to see that I care about what they do; that I see the big picture and it's not just about grades, test scores and other data points. Of course at times I'll provide constructive criticism. At other times, it'll be necessary to provide training or support. But most of the time, it means applauding their great effort and simply getting out of their way. For the past couple of years, I've tried to hand-write five notes per week to recognize excellence and effort and I'll be sure to do so again this year. Ultimately, I want teachers to know I believe in them; that I have confidence in them and it's my job to ensure that they can do their jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

Can't Forget about Families and the Community 
With all that we do for our students and staff, it's often easy to forget about or put off building relationships with families and the community. My new school, Monticello High School, places a great importance on fostering these relationships with various community events and we've had several conversations about home visits and expanding our efforts. I'm fortunate to live minutes from school, so I'll have countless opportunities for informal interactions with community members and families, but again, I know I must do more. I'll continue with my Friday Five, in which I randomly call five families on Fridays to seek their input and feedback, and I'll continually seek ways to engage families.
As an administrator, I'm blessed to have the opportunity every single day to build relationships with students, staff and families. When I began my administrative career five years ago, I feared that I wouldn't be able to have the same kind of relationship with students as I did as a teacher. While in many ways the relationships are different, the opportunity to watch students grow from freshmen to seniors is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of my job. By reaching out and embracing students, staff and families, I hope the message is clear: "We're all in this together. Our commitment to our children/students is evident in everything that we do." 


Jonathon Wennstrom said...


Great post. I love the Fiday Five idea and may borrow that!! I wish you the best at your new school and new position. It's going to be a great year:)


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