I have been doing a lot of traveling for work. Yes, our two Labrador Retrievers start moping around the house when the suitcase comes out. I have been going from state to state, city to city, district to district, school to school, and educator to educator. I have learned, firsthand, what so many teachers felt at the height of COVID----teaching was so incredibly hard when teachers were meeting their students online (even Kinder kiddos!). Teachers got creative, and I feel the same way. With a synchronous/online course I taught for my alma mater, I found out that if I had everyone create their own Google slide that had a favorite piece of music, pictures of their families, and other interests represented by memes or gifs. Each day we met, I would start the day (did I mention that this course started at 8:00 a.m. each morning?) with one of their slides put up as a Powerpoint slide, playing the song they had chosen. This did a couple of things: it allowed us into that person's personal life, but it also truly got students wanting to get to class on time so they wouldn't miss their own or someone else's slide.
I admit that I typically rely a bit on my sense of humor (no, I'm far from a comedian, but I do enjoy laughing with people and am not afraid to be self-deprecating in order to build a relationship), and I am so very passionate about the work I do in helping educators and educational leaders improve and hone their craft. One of the most important pieces is the willingness to be vulnerable enough in order to build relationships with others.
I taught in Michigan the other day. I'll be honest. I do not typically LOVE working with really large groups because I can't get around to talking to every single person in a personal manner by the end of the day. I had 75 participants.....honestly out of my comfort zone a little bit, but I was ready, willing, and able. I talked to all of these teachers about how I tried to demonstrate my own vulnerability with my staff when I was a principal through various methods: asking "experts" in content areas to lead workshops on a particular topic; honestly talking to the teachers about how we were learning a new plan for growth together----I didn't know any more than they did; answering questions with things like, "I'm not sure the answer to your question, but I promise you I will find out" and then the kicker is to actually follow-through on that.
Within 15 minutes of the workshop I was teaching, I noticed one participant disengaged....texting on her phone, writing notes to another participant, etc. (pretty much everything that we, as teachers, would never allow in our own classroom, right? :) ). I walked over to her table, using subtle proximity as a strategy first. It didn't seem to have an effect. When they were asked to write the answer to a question on a post-it note, she didn't write anything. I walked over to her and asked, "Do you need a post-it note?" She said, "No" and reluctantly grabbed a post-it note. Again, this was out of 75 people. Almost everyone else seemed to be participating fully in each activity they were cognitively engaged in. I did notice that, at one point, when I asked them to move around to form groups of participants in a random fashion (that's for another blog, for sure), she seemed to become more engaged and talked a bit more with her group.
I heard another teacher was complaining about the task I had asked them to do when I walked past her table. I knelt down beside her and asked her what she taught. She said she taught Language Arts but hadn't been given the new curriculum materials for the new year yet. I asked what she was planning to do on the first day of school if she still didn't have her materials. She said she knew the standards and she would begin teaching lessons that would fall in that realm of the missing textbooks she had yet to lay eyes on (don't get me started on how frustrating this is to teachers). I asked her to read a quote aloud to the rest of the group, and she did-----loud and proud. I walked over to thank her and we fist-bumped. I knew, then, that we had begun the first stages of forming a relationship, which would be critical to having her do the work vs. complaining about it. That scenario played out even better than I had hoped. She even asked me for my email and website address, so Julie, if you are reading this, I'm bragging about you.
Relationships between school leaders and teachers are vital if principals want their teachers to "follow" them into new changes, servant leadership styles, and into collaborating with each other on grade levels, etc. Relationships between teachers and students are just as important. As the quote that has been attributed to several people says, "They won't care what you know until they know that you care." I care. I really care. I don't just care about teaching school leaders how to evaluate their teachers, but I work with schools in an effort to build trust among all staff members and students. Knowing peoples' names is a huge part of that, in my humble opinion. If you remember my name after working with me one day, I am impressed with that.
How are you building relationships in your schools or in your own workplace?
I'd love to hear your own ideas.