I am very fortunate to be able to sing in our church choir, something which I really enjoy, even though I may not be opera voice quality. It’s fun to sing with a group and be a part of music ministry. Not long ago, our extraordinarily talented choir director talked to our group about his trip back to his ‘growing up’ parish to attend the funeral of a close family member. He spoke at length about how the beautifully historic church was full for the service, and how the priest’s words were both comforting and inspirational; how the voice of the choir, numbering over 60 people, was moving and uplifting. But, as he spoke it became clear that he was describing more than all the ministries working in perfect concert at this celebration of life; he was talking about the experience of coming home. Of being in the place where memories are made, tears are shed, sibling rivalry and bickering are everyday life, and the place we all leave with a resolute determination to forge our own path, yet (hopefully) return to find a time to reconnect, to be thankful for the place of beginning again.
Our schools provide this same experience for ours students, and school staff understand that they play a critical role in creating this place of safety, tolerance, challenge and faith. They work relentlessly to create that kind of atmosphere. For some students, school is even more a home than their own home, sadly enough.
As leader, how does this environment become home for its staff? How does a leader take care of his/her staff so they can take care of the students? How does the leader create a place where challenge to embrace new teaching strategies is an expectation but not an overwhelming burden; where staff safety is guaranteed; where complacency is avoided by rigorous self-reflection; where the understanding that although the needs of the students come first is simply fundamental to the existence of the school, there will be support when teacher frustration raises its exhausted head because the needs are just too much. School staff is exceptionally good at creating the place of beginning again for their students. Leaders are tasked with the responsibility of creating the place of beginning again for staff. So, a few practical ideas just for starters…
- Make a point of not only greeting people each morning, but take a tour around every day to touch base with your staff. Be interested in their stories – the caretaker who was up all night with his sick child, the teacher who has the NHL son living in the insanely competitive world of pro sport, the educational assistant who is taking care of elderly parents, the young teacher struggling to look like teaching is easy. Each staff person brings their lives to school with them, valiantly tries to leave them at the door, but still needs you to recognize that you know life is not just about work. While you’re all at work, it’s about the students, but your genuine interest in the stories of your staff outside of school will give both a greater sense of belonging to your school ‘home’.
- Through your actions, recognize the fact that you work with good people – and keep encouraging and supporting those next steps. People who are challenged to step out of their comfort zone, who try new strategies, who challenge you as a leader to take stock of your own beliefs may be the most creative and innovative you’ll find. But – don’t be surprised when complications arise with/among these very same folks with big ideas. That’s ok. Your common ground is the same: your students. That understanding and the fact that you’ve established initial and ongoing connection with staff means you’ll have laid solid groundwork for working through issues if the going gets rough. Those difficult conversations are inevitable, but if they are rooted in relationship with staff and concern for students, you’ll be able to work to a successful end. (Most of the time. :))
- Make ‘Thank you” a part of your daily vocabulary.Your home will be all the better for it.