Four to Soar

Spring is in the air…baby birds are chirping and bright green grass is growing. As each sunny day gets longer, the moments left in the school year get shorter and shorter. Spring also provides the paradoxical challenge of maintaining a focus on the current work while also looking ahead and planning for next year. It’s a lot. On top of a lot. And it can leave principals and their staff feeling overwhelmed and depleted.

The following is a hopefully handy list of habits to help campus principals and their supervisors soar through end-of-year challenges. While these practices are always helpful, during times of stress and fatigue they can be game changers for campus culture.

1. Remember your “why.”
While jumping into writing a campus vision statement in March may not be practical, providing time for each staff member to remember their “why” can help recenter, rejuvenate, and refocus your crew. I was recently part of a faculty-meeting length activity that combined Brené Brown’s List of Values ( activity with self-generated “I am” statements as a springboard for creating individual purpose statements. These were printed and framed for each staff member as a desktop visual of their “why” when times get tough. As Simon Sinek reminds us, “When we know WHY we do what we do, everything falls into place. When we don’t, we have to push things into place.”

2. Check in on your people.
Challenge yourself to connect with your staff members daily. Put yourself at a highly trafficked hallway intersection before school gets started to greet both staff and students. Peek your head into classrooms during conference times. Show up to help with duty. Then, take the extra step of asking the question, “How’s it going?” when you see your people. You’d be amazed what you can uncover, head off, and proactively change when you seek out regular, informal feedback. Don’t give up if you don’t make it around to many people in one day. Pick it back up the next chance you get.

3. Systemically celebrate.
The research is clear—we all need to hear at least 3 positives for every 1 negative to feel included, valued, and cared for in any relationship. Unfortunately, most brains are not wired to see the good in things. It must be done with intention. Start a staff brag board. Add a “good things” or “shout out time” to every meeting and find reasons to laugh together through quick and quality team builders. Systemic intentionality is the only way to ensure fidelity with anything, and that includes positive reinforcement.

4. Grow yourself and your people.
Lyle Wells at Integrus Leadership talks about the five people you need in your life to grow: Truth tellers (tell you what you don’t want, but need, to hear), Teachers (people you can learn from), Trustees (process ideas with you), Tank fillers (your biggest cheerleaders) and Timothy (those you invest in). Who are these people in your life? Specifically, who are your “timothies”—those who you are growing to be future school leaders? Take time, especially in the spring, to grow and empower your high leverage teachers. You can’t do this work without the help of others. And you shouldn’t. People are more invested in work they have been a part of creating.

The spring brings with it busy days, long to-do lists, and a variety of leadership challenges. It’s easy to lose sight of the importance of nurturing people and celebrating positivity in the sea of tasks competing for your time and energy. But remember, it’s the adults in the building who make the difference for your students, and it begins with the biggest influencer of all—you!

Dr. Heather Stoner is the Executive Director of Student and Campus Services in Georgetown ISD.

The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 6000 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

© Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association

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