Administration & Leadership

The Benefits of One-on-One Meetings Between Administrators and Teachers

Regular informal conversations allow school leaders and teachers to connect on a personal level, building relationships that benefit the whole school.

April 15, 2024
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Schools are filled with formal conversations—pre-observation conferences; post-observation conferences; checkpoints where administrators and teachers review frameworks and rubrics; and beginning, middle, and end-of-year conferences, to name just a few. 

These conferences are planned by districts, states, and unions and focus on students, instruction, and data. None focus on the teacher holistically or prioritize honest, ongoing conversation and care, but consistent one-on-one conversations are vital to a positive school culture that supports educators’ development. These conversations can be an oasis—a place where a principal becomes a mentor, not an evaluator. 

At my school, we used one-on-one conversations to ensure that we were growing. Teachers shared personal stories that led me to better empathize, as well as ideas that became school initiatives. We grew in unexpected ways because we consistently talked about things that mattered to us. Here’s how you can incorporate this practice. 


Start where you can. You don’t have to meet with everyone each week. Perhaps you begin with new teachers or folks who are struggling. You could initiate a random cross-section to see how it goes.

Same goes for frequency and duration. I scheduled weekly one-on-one conversations with new staff so we had frequent check-ins. However, senior staff often had monthly one-on-ones instead.

We used a sign-up spreadsheet showing my availability, with green highlights that meant weekly, yellow biweekly, and red monthly. You can use any scheduling application; the point is that conversations are scheduled and consistent to build trust.

Creating Space For Conversation

If these chats are new to your community, it’s important that you let each person know they’re not in trouble. Ensure that they know this will be an ongoing conversation, and they’ll have time to share things that are pertinent to them—personal or professional. 

If they have nonurgent topics that arise during the week, they can hold them for these meetings. Be clear that discussions are non-evaluative. They’re an extension of an idea we share with students: “Relationships matter.” Much like in a therapist’s office, confidentiality is key.

Unlearning Formality

Unlearning the formality of frameworks, conferences, and evaluations can be difficult. There are countless texts on courageous conversations, but fewer on those that are casual or intimate. Individuals who prefer structure may find it helpful to start with 15 minutes each for leader and teacher to share.

Initiate the conversation with “How are you?” and really give time for the answer. You can gently push toward topics of interest. For world travelers, it could be “How was your trip to Paris? Where are you going next?” For caretakers it could be “How is your mom? I know she was ill.”

Don’t pry, but demonstrate that this is a space where teachers can talk. You can allow there to be problems without solutions, conversations without action plans. 

Teachers don’t have to prep or plan for these meetings. They can show up as they are. You’ll soon find folks showing up with sticky notes containing bullet points of things they’ve been looking forward to discussing—a benefit of unlearned formality.

Dealing With Challenges

These conversations are intentionally designed to allow teachers a place to share about what they want for their students—and aren’t a time for SMART goals. Together, teachers and I have processed love, divorce, grief, and parenting. Teachers have shared that they want more chances to lead, that systems we have in place are ineffective, and that they want to go back to school to become doctors. Whatever they share, a leader’s job is supporting them—even when they doubt the journey or it means teachers will leave school. 

This space allows leaders to have needed conversations; staff are more likely to receive challenging feedback when it comes in the midst of an ongoing conversation. Challenging feedback doesn’t require a script, but it does require empathy—for example: “Is your father-in-law requiring care in the morning? I’ve noticed that you’ve been late to first period, and I thought that might be why. How can we help?”

They also require clarity: “I know we’ve talked about how Autumn is struggling in your class. When I was in your room yesterday, I noticed that her assignments weren’t scaffolded. That could be a factor in her behavior. Would you like me to help you work through how to chunk her classwork?”

And there will be difficult ones: “Are you happy here? I’ve noticed you raising your voice. Your demeanor seems to have shifted. We can only be effective in this work if we’re fulfilled. It’s OK if you’re not, but we need to talk about it.”

Growth is rarely a straight line. Principals can be mentors, coaches, and teammates, modeling how they want teachers to be with children.


In addition to challenges, one-on-ones are a great time to celebrate wins you observe: “Makiyah was engaged throughout the entire lesson. She’s had so much growth this year. Well done! Not only did you build that relationship, but you made her believe in herself.” 

Or, to highlight personal growth: “Let’s see photos of the house you bought! How wonderful! Are you excited? When do you move in?”

Honoring Humanity

Scheduled, consistent, meaningful one-on-ones with staff allow school leaders to learn what is going on with the humans in their classrooms—teachers and students alike.

Leaders learn how schoolwide initiatives are actually playing out in classrooms, which kids seem to be thriving and which are struggling, and where there are gaps in communication.

Staff begin to share the things they can’t share in large meetings, emails, or formal conversations.

As a result, you can build relationships and understand your team’s needs in a way that is not possible through observation alone. And those relationships can facilitate improved instruction, strengthened culture, curricular innovation, and refined systems—though those aren’t the goal in any individual conversation. 

The goal, instead, is to take care of your adults in the way that you ask them to take care of their students.

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