George Lucas Educational Foundation
Community Bulletin Board

Being Nice Isn't Enough: Supporting School Staff for Success

August 17, 2015         Updated August 16, 2015

An oft-heard bit of advice from the teacher's lounge:  "If you want to survive in this business, make sure that you stay on good terms with the school secretary and janitor."  Wise words indeed.

It doesn't take much to show a little kindness to the staff members who support us every day.  We should make a conscious, concerted effort on a daily basis to go out of our way to ensure that these individuals are appreciated and that they feel valued. 

Teachers and administrators definitely have a great impact on the education of our children, but all of the people on the sidelines make significant contributions as well. The office staff, the health office personnel, the custodians, the landscapers, the cafeteria workers, the classroom and playground aides - all help in one way or another to help teachers and students alike in reaching all of their educational goals.

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We need to change our emphasis from being nice so that we can get what we need to being nice so that they can also succeed. 

Many years ago, while working as a principal, I made a point to reach out and include everyone. One day I talked to one of the district landscapers. He and his crew were on my campus about twice a month to mow, trim, and clean up the school lawn. We chatted then - and we still chat now ten years later albeit on a different campus. At the end of every conversation I let him know that there were cold bottles of water in my office refrigerator and he could get one whenever he needed one. This hardworking man told me, "You are the only administrator in the district that has ever acknowledged me and my crew." Ignoring someone who improves the aesthetic value of the school in which children must live and learn is not acceptable in my book.

At that same school, many of the older students felt more comfortable talking to the head custodian than to their teachers. Several of those teachers complained to me.  How much more powerful a support system could have been created for the boys and girls had the teachers joined forces with those not in possession of a degree and teaching certificate.

During our first meeting of this current school year (at my present school), we were told that Maria, our head custodian for years had left to seek another job that would give her more time to be with her toddler. We all sincerely felt sad for the loss of one of our own. Maria had given so much of her time, her energy, and her heart to make us successful in our jobs.

One hot summer day, during my years as an assistant principal at this same school, Maria was hustling about moving furniture and equipment. She was seven months pregnant at the time and definitely should not have been lifting and carrying heavy items in the 115 degree Arizona heat. I told her that I would transport whatever she needed to transport and that she could be the supervisor and tell me where to take each item. I did it not because I wanted her to clean my room or fix my sink or find me a bookshelf, but because it was the right thing to do. 

Our office staff does more than most people realize. Perhaps I have the advantage of having worked closely with them in the office for five years. These wonderful women counsel crying children, get those children clean clothes when they can't get to the restroom in time, and hug, congratulate, and guide students throughout the day and throughout the year. They bring in shoes and clothing and food to help meet the basic needs of kids so that learning can actually take place elsewhere on campus. All of this is done around the paperwork and clerical chores outlined in their job descriptions.

As this new school year begins, every teacher and every parent needs to say a prayer of thanks for their school's support staff. We need to make sure that we thank these amazing people daily for what they do for us and for our students. We need to be on good terms with them - not for our sake - but for theirs.

It is the right thing to do.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.

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