1. Get to know all your staff on a first-name basis.
I’ve blogged about this previously, but it’s worth restating. If you want to motivate your staff from a department, central office, or building perspective, you’ve got to know staff both personally and professionally. You can start by making sure you know all staff you evaluate and supervise on a first-name basis.
If your first thought is “how can I do this?”, you may already be lost. You will have to take the time to figure this out, and it likely means one less meeting here or there to make sure you’re walking through classrooms, meeting with leadership teams, and actively listening to focus groups—to start. When you do this, always, always ask or find out who you are meeting with ahead of time or by asking staff to introduce themselves in the moment.
Starting with a first name should lead to deeper conversations about individual likes, ideas for improvement, or even an icebreaker every once in a while. Knowing more about the people under your care will, in turn, help you remember them by name, especially if you’re not seeing them daily. And please do not be afraid to ask for names when you don’t remember them. Staff will understand and tell you their name once, twice, or however many times it takes to remember.
2. Understand staff needs, then work on filling those needs.
Education leaders are highly educated with multiple degrees and usually hold diverse experiences across multiple levels. This doesn’t mean leaders have all the answers to all challenges. Leadership is usually well intentioned in presenting rationale, research, or reasons when changes and improvements should occur. The oft-forgotten step is asking staff what they need for greater success.
It’s amazing what staff will tell a leader when he or she asks. In my principal experience, I asked every staff member what they needed individually and collectively to improve. In three schools, the evidence was overwhelming and clear what I needed to do.
- In a school with high poverty and a decade of weak leadership, staff let me know that greater community building and a concerted school discipline approach were necessary.
- In a well-funded district, staff clearly communicated a need for Writer’s Workshop professional development because it was a district initiative they were held accountable for without sufficient training.
- In an affluent district, reinforcing school values and how to build upon them for a welcoming and unified school community were initial goals developed in my first year.
By all means, develop plans, but leaders should do so with staff involvement through asking what’s necessary at the level they are supporting.
3. Protect what’s sacred and let all the rest go.
Discover, promote, and protect what’s important in the community you lead. This means never settling for “doing something” because someone said so. This is a difficult directive to follow, and it can lead to disagreements or even hard feelings.