The first five minutes a visitor spends in a school can reveal a lot about its students, their teachers, and the broader school community. What impression of you do you want them to walk away with?
As leaders, we sometimes only have a few minutes to convey our passion about our work, ability, and confidence as an instructional leader, and what our root beliefs are. Below are three stories of effective leaders I witnessed on a recent trip to Chicago that hopefully will challenge you to reflect upon the lasting impression you leave others with when they visit your school (note all school and principal names are fictional).
When I walked into St. Sebastian’s at 7:45 a.m., Principal Kathryn was among students. She greeted each with a smile and a handshake as they walked off to class. She admitted that by week three she had yet to learn all 400 students’ names, but she was getting there. Kathryn set the tone for the day—a bright, cheerful greeting, acknowledging Christ in every student with a handshake and calling them by name. Kathryn made seeing Christ in all things and in others part of her daily practice and it was a sincere expression of her love for her students and her work.
As a school leader, think about how you set the tone for the day at your school, with your students and colleagues—do you demonstrate a love for your work through your actions? Are you able to see Christ in the eyes of all those you greet?
Principal Kyle greeted me at the front office and the first thing he asked was if I had the chance to meet the school secretary, Jenny. Upon asking, he said, “Jenny is the best, she knows how to get things done and the families love her. I don’t know what I would do without her.” It was a small affirmation of Jenny’s work, but spoke volumes to how Kyle valued the work of the school secretary and motivated his staff. As we toured the school with Kyle, all teachers said hello and kindly welcomed us.
The leader sets the tone for the culture of the school and when the interactions are positive and welcoming this models a loving environment for the children we serve. Are you able to recognize the dignity of your colleagues? How do you interact with your colleagues on a daily basis and affirm them for the work they are doing?
At St. Catherine’s the walls were covered with recently completed student work that was connected to a state standard, photos were up of students holding awards, and many religious icons reflected the demographic of the school community being served. Walking past classrooms students were engaged, teachers were up moving around and professionally dressed. While on the tour Principal Kevin articulated how he learned the importance of clearly communicating expectations even with the smallest of details.
Walking through your school, do you celebrate student achievement and joyfully recognize their work through displays? Do you notice a consistency across classrooms of meeting professional expectations? How are these expectations communicated to your faculty / staff? As a leader never assume faculty/staff will know what is expected of them — make your expectations clear, even with the smallest of details.
If five minutes is all you have with a visitor, will they leave inspired by the energy and love you have for your students, like I was inspired with Principal Kathryn? Will they see positive interactions and a loving community, as was with Principal Kyle? And finally, will they see how you hold up students for their learning and hold teachers to high standards of professionalism, as was the case with Principal Kevin?
Take some time to reflect on what lasting impression you want others to have of you and your school and be intentional about your practice, such that your actions reflect your root beliefs.