It's that notion of our staff mattering that I want to speak to today. How do you show your staff that they matter, that what they do is valued? How do you communicate that to them?
Someone very close to me is a teacher in another school district and knew she was going to have a different classroom this coming school year but wasn't sure where it was going to be. When the room was recently shown to her, she was thankful, but there were some clear concerns about the inadequacy of the space due to the content she teaches. When she expressed the concerns to her supervisors, instead of the concerns being addressed with a listening ear in which together they brainstormed some solutions on how to address the concerns, she was met with, "At least you have a room." No attempt was made to brainstorm solutions to the clear challenges she expressed. Wow. I was stunned as she shared this story. At least she has a room.
Colleagues, we must be so careful with our choice of words. A flippant comment such as this devalues what this professional does. She devotes her life to making a difference in kids' lives. She cares about her kids and wants the best for them. We are busy, but we are not too busy to communicate value. We are better than this, and our staff deserves better than this.
This example physically hurt my heart. As I spent time with her brainstorming solutions, this story haunted me. I kept thinking about how I hope I never devalue my own staff with flippant or sarcastic comments such as this. I have decided to recommit myself to communicating value to my staff with my words and actions. As I have been reflecting on this and thinking about what this means, I have chosen to recommit myself to the following:
- I will truly listen. When a staff member comes to me with a question or concern, I will stop what I am doing and give them my undivided attention. I will repeat back to them in my own words what the question or concern is to make sure I understand fully. Together we will brainstorm solutions, or I will seek the information they need and follow through with them.
- I will find ways to make their day. Little treats like jeans days or small treats don't cost a lot of money but let them know I care about them and am glad they are on this team.
- I will leave constructive feedback after walkthroughs. We are professionals and deserve to be treated as such. All of us do some things well, and we also all have areas in which we can grow. I will respect my staff enough to celebrate the great things they are doing and offer feedback on areas in which they can grow so that we can all foster a growth mindset of improving our practice.
- I will write personal, handwritten notes. In this technological age, it is so much easier to send a text or email. While those are special too, there is still just something about a handwritten note. Maybe it's because my own love language is words of affirmation, but I think many staff members feel valued when I take the time to write a meaningful note.
- I will not keep adding to their plates without considering what I can take away. Educators are so busy. They are asked to do more than is humanly possible, so we must keep the main things the main things, and help them prioritize. I will respect them enough to only ask them to do things that matter.
- I will support them personally. Regardless of the life stage there are in, life happens - A child gets sick, you get a flat tire on the way to work, you or a family member get an unexpected diagnosis, your spouse gets transferred, the list goes on and on. Taking care of my staff means taking care of them personally too. Cover their class while they take their baby to the doctor, pick them up if they're stuck on the side of the road, be a shoulder they can cry on when things aren't going well. Take care of them. They are family.
- I will be a part of the team. Yes, there may be times when I have to give directives or address concerns that arise in my role as their supervisor, but that is just my role on the team. I will roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I will be in the trenches with them. When it's raining, I will be out there in the pouring rain in the car pool line along side them. When a child pukes on the floor, I will grab the mop and start cleaning it up. I will serve them. We are all on the same team; we just have different roles.
- I will be open, authentic, and transparent. I will offer honest feedback; I will tell them my real opinion. This goes along with treating them as the professionals they are.
- I will set high expectations, but I will equip them to carry those out.
- I will back them up and support them in every way I can.