What do I consider the number one leadership behaviour that has the greatest impact on school climate and culture?
Actually, when you think of the deep connections in all effective school research you could easily make the argument that this one behaviour impacts academic achievement, sense of belonging, engagement, etc. You name it and it most likely is improved by this one leadership action.
What is it? I’ll reveal in awhile, I’ve got some explaining to do first.
Towards the end of my administration career I got into the habit of double clicking. During conversations with staff, students and parents I made the point of asking lots of questions. People feel a deeper connection with you when you are curious, inquisitive and show that you are interested in what they have to say. When people are speaking with you, they are watching you listen to them. What do you look like when you are listening? We all can tell when someone is not giving you their attention.
You know when you are using tech and you double click on something in order to go to a deeper layer? I started doing the same with questions and comments. I would double click to get to a deeper level.
For example, if a parent stopped me outside to say good morning or hello, they would often comment on the school. There were some that had a comment or suggestion but for the most part I was blessed to have worked in schools where the community was happy and supportive of the school. If they made a supportive statement such as, ‘we love the school’, ‘our children are so happy”, ‘It is wonderful that you are at the school, Mr. Marshall’, I wanted to know more.
It would be easy to accept the compliment and say thank you and be off on my way, but I would remain in conversation and I would double click. I would thank them for the comment and ask them about their statement. ‘Thank you so much for your kind comment, may I ask? What do you notice or hear that makes you say this?
The vast majority would say something along the lines of ‘we see you’, ‘the parents notice you are around’, ‘you are here every morning saying hello and greeting families’. To those that spoke with me, I was effective at my job because I was present!
There it is…the leadership action I feel makes the biggest difference! Be there. Show up. Be present.
Do families see you? Can staff find you in the building? Do they see you in the classrooms and hallways? Do students see you outside during non-instructional time? Do you attend special events and community gatherings? Be there for your families, for your staff and most importantly, be there for your students.
So many of my colleagues make sure they are present. This is a daily routine for them. Our very best administrators make this a part of their day. Families are present in the morning and after school, you should be too. When families are on or near the school property, make sure they see you, no matter the weather. Remember in Canada, there is no bad weather, just poor clothing choices!
The parents and families are not inside the school seeing you work on policies and procedures. They do not look over your shoulder when working on budget or sitting in the room when conducting interviews. But your effectiveness is elevated in their minds when they see you. You need to be where they can find you.
The same goes for students and staff. They are there during the school day and need to see you. While they are in the school, you should be in the ‘school’ as well, meaning, out of the office.
Be present. Get out of your office area and make sure staff, students, and families see you. When out and about make sure to be modelling what you stand for. In our case as I stepped out of the office area for a little bit of ‘show time’ it was the opportunity to show all that we Work Hard, Be Nice and Make a Difference.
At the beginning of the day I would walk the perimeter of the property and see how things looked after the night. We had a busy play area and often there would be the need for clean up after the night, or weekend before. While out surveying the property it was the perfect time to welcome families as they came to school.
Say good morning, let them know you are happy to be spending the day with their children.
At the end of the day I would walk the asphalt area and the sidewalks to say goodbye to our buses, our students on bicycles, and our families walking home together.
This connection with others will do you good! It is a great boost of personal positive energy! These interactions with your community are good for your soul. And in the past few years, we have had too long without it.
Others cannot see inside your head, they don’t know how you are thinking or how you feel but they can see what is important to you based on your actions. Build trust by living it out daily, consistently over time.
It’s such a simple idea, an Interesting Idea, yet so powerful. Get out of your office. Get out with the important people. Be present.