Picture talking to teachers about their experiences working at different schools. The staff of one describe the school as a safe environment where it was ok to make mistakes, take risks and ask for help. In another school, teachers say they are not encouraged to share ideas, ask for advice or seek support. Which school would you prefer?
Yes, it takes a village to serve the students. Everyone has a role in a school’s success, from the teachers and the counselors to the team leaders and the school leaders. Still, the school administrator’s support and relationship with the staff can have a far-reaching effect on the culture of the entire school.
Beginning a New Role as a School Administrator
In “Suggestions for Principals to Provide Teacher Support,” Derrick Meador writes that one of the worst things a new principal can do is make too many changes and do so too soon. When people enter an existing environment for the first time, the thing to do is listen and observe. This allows them to get a feel for the environment and the rules.
At this stage, you want to get to know people and start building relationships. To come in and implement sweeping changes can interfere with trust-building.
Start out by taking the following actions:
- Get to know the staff: Ask the staff about their families, interests and hobbies. The key is to find a balance between the professional and the personal. This allows you to handle difficult situations without the personal side getting in the way.
- Invite teachers to come to you with issues or frustrations: Some teachers may simply need to vent to someone who will listen. For problems that may require more thought, explain that you need time to think it over and that you will follow up. To help them feel at ease in sharing, let them know that you will keep the conversation confidential.
- Ask teachers for advice: Even as the primary decision-maker, the principal can involve teachers in the process, especially when a decision impacts them. They will feel valued when you consider their feedback.
Asking for advice helps encourage teachers to become leaders. According to “Leading for All,” school leaders can further develop teachers’ leadership skills by giving them a say, delegating opportunities while staying out of the way, and standing by to assist.
How to Build Positive Relationships With Teachers
After getting acquainted, school administrators can take these actions to cement and maintain their relationships with staff.
- Share your mistakes and uncertainty: Teachers tend to feel safer about making mistakes or feeling unsure about teaching tactics when you share your vulnerabilities. Creating a culture of open dialogue and experimentation is more likely to happen around a leader who admits not always having the answers and who learns from mistakes.
- Encourage peer collaboration: Give teachers the opportunity to share insights and advice on what works and what does not work. New or struggling teachers can learn from best practices while experienced teachers act as mentors, provide support and pick up new tips.
- Offer relevant professional development opportunities: Professional development can be hit or miss. Teachers benefit from learning experiences when it applies to their job. Teachers will appreciate a principal who selects the right professional development opportunities. The school likewise benefits when teachers learn new techniques to apply in the classroom.
Investing the time and effort into cultivating relationships with staff lets teachers know they have support and can experiment with new strategies.