There is no time like the new year to take stock and reflect on how our behavior could have a more positive impact on the world. School leaders are particularly well positioned to generate optimism and change, simply by recognizing that they are carefully watched and heard by the many people they encounter. This brings me to the essence of this post, which is essentially a reminder to principals that they should embrace their influence. They should use it to spread hope, joy and success in their schools.
Here are some simple things great principals do to positively impact their school communities, and which all principals can begin doing as they open their doors in 2016:
1. Greet Students at the Door Every Morning
By welcoming students a principal has the opportunity to get to know all students by name. This ritual shows kids that you are approachable and that you care, and gives you greater exposure to parents and the community. There is no better place to position yourself as the day is getting started, and students' energy will catapult you through the morning like a shot of espresso.
2. Remember to Smile
This one is easy. We have all seen the meme that reminds us how many more muscles are used in a frown than a smile. Choose the path of least resistance here. There can be a lot of stress and tension in a school building - felt by both staff and students alike - so when the leader smiles, and sends out positivity, everyone receives an indirect message that "it is going to be OK." Don't underestimate how your facial expression impacts everyone.
3. Eat with Kids
Everyone has to eat, but when a second grader has the opportunity to eat with his or her principal...well, that becomes what I call a dinner-talk-worthy event. On a rotating basis, invite kids into your office for lunch, or join them at their tables in the cafeteria. You will get to know each other in new and unexpected ways, and will all be better for it in the days that follow. It's important that you track it though, because the kids will notice who did and didn't get to participate in this special experience!
4. Drop "Can't" and adopt "is learning to"
If a teacher or parent is overheard saying that so and so "can't read," or that s/he "can't control himself," insert "is learning to" in its place. If kids say "oh, she can't speak English," teach them to say "is learning to," instead. Schools are houses of learning, and we are all works in progress. This language shift should start with the principal and should be adopted by staff and students alike. What might appear as a subtly of language can in reality lead to a seismic paradigm shift in terms of how we talk about and think about our students. Principals should lead the way in this department.
In this new year, resolve to make the most of your time in the principal's chair. Please know that as the leader of your school community your words and actions carry tremendous weight, and that - for better or for worse - they are felt by the many kids and adults you work with.
If you have more ideas for how a principal could build a positive, pro-social community in the schools they lead, please share in the comments section below.
Happy New Year everyone!