You have probably heard the story about the student whose professor gave a pop quiz. The last question on the exam asked students to identify the first name of the woman who cleaned the school. Of course the student had seen the cleaning woman many times. She could describe the woman, but she did not know her name. After the test was over, the student complained to the professor about the question and how it affected her grade. "In your career you will meet many people," the professor explained. "All of those people are important. They deserve your attention. Even if all you do is smile and say their name, that tells them you care."
BRAVO principals -- principals who Build Relationships with Actions that Value Others -- know the importance of knowing someone's name. As leaders, we know how important it is to care about people. We make a conscious effort to connect with them. Caring means connecting, and when we connect we make people feel important.
REFLECTING ON CARING
Close your eyes for a minute and reflect on the last time you felt that someone did not care for you or thought you were unimportant. It doesn't feel good, does it? I know what you are remembering. You were talking with someone, and his eyes looked everywhere but at you. Or maybe you contacted someone and she never even acknowledged your e-mail or phone call Unfortunately, all principals know too well how it feels to be considered unimportant or not cared about, but no principal wants to make others feel that way. Principals who care act in many ways to show they care. Following are ten simple actions that principals I know use.
Anticipate the emotional effects of our actions. Many times principals must make decisions with which they know everyone will not agree. That just goes with the territory. No matter how hard we try, or how important it is to us to keep everyone happy, that is simply not possible all the time. Say, for example, that, due to restructuring, you must move a teacher to a different classroom -- even a different hall -- than where she has been for the last five years. As you consider that move, you remember that this teacher, even though she is excellent in the classroom, is not quick to adapt to change. You anticipate that she will be distressed and, knowing that, take time to personally share with her the decision and why it is necessary. That small act of personally sharing the information defuses a possibly difficult situation. Some may call that "damage control." I call it "caring control."
When talking with anyone, refer to him or her by name. Something about speaking a person's name -- whether it is a student, a parent, or a teacher -- conveys an attitude of respect and care. The next time you see a new student in the hall, say "Hello, Maria" or "How's it going, Jillel?" Then watch for their reaction. First, their eyes will widen as if to say, "How does he know my name?" Then, they will smile. Keep watching. As they walk away from you, you will notice that they stand a little taller, a little straighter -- all because someone cared enough to know their name.
Recognize accomplishments publicly. Everyone likes to be recognized for accomplishing something, for a job done well. Whether we are acknowledging academic achievement, sporting ability, artistic talent, or teaching ability, caring principals must never miss an opportunity to put the public spotlight on achievement. My favorite bulletin board on a campus is the one in the entrance hallway that touts accomplishments of students and faculty on the campus. Change it regularly and look for different kinds of accomplishments to recognize.
Encourage feedback, and respond to suggestions. E-mail makes it especially easy for busy principals to solicit feedback. However, encouraging feedback is meaningless if our actions don't indicate that we use the information. When we revise a strategy or program based on feedback, remember to give credit to those who suggested the good idea (unless it was you). Acknowledging our own good ideas comes across as self-serving. Acknowledging the good ideas of others demonstrates how much we care about them. P Question and correct others professionally. A major part of the responsibility of being the principal is that we must question -- and sometimes correct -- faculty, students, and parents. When possible, questioning and correcting should be done in private. When it is not possible, we must be sure that our facial expression, body posture, and tone of voice convey respect.
Help others save face. When a mistake is made or when there is lack of agreement, a principal can help that individual save face by telling about a time when he made a mistake. A situation such as that is a great opportunity to use our own "learnings" as object lessons: "Did I ever tell you about the time when I . . . Well, that's how I learned to . . ." Principals who do not agree with a position someone has taken or something someone has done must also carefully monitor their responses. A phrase that I have found helpful is to say something like "I see why you feel that way. I would probably feel the same way."
Do what you say you will do. When a principals tells a teacher, student, or parent that she will see that something gets done, she had better see that it gets done. It is far too easy to say, "I'll check on that," walk away, and never think of it again. Write it down, follow up, and get back in touch with the person to whom you made the promise. Make sure they know you cared enough to do what you said you would do.
Be invitational. Being invitational means that we must be seen as professional, yet welcoming, to faculty, students and parents. Someone once said that the principal is like the school gatekeeper. Most people think of a gatekeeper as one who keeps people out, but I think of a gatekeeper as one who invites people in. Caring principals want school to be a place where people connect, so we remember to smile and look pleasant. We offer to help when we see a need. That might mean holding the door, carrying in a science project, or watching a class for a teacher who has had an emergency. It can mean researching the school budget and creatively finding funds to provide a much-needed resource. When we offer to help, our actions demonstrate that others are important to us.
Be authentic. Be comfortable with who you are. Students, teachers, and parents see through a fake. They will know if you are putting up a facade of caring. Our schools need principals who are role models for caring about student learning. Just today I heard a principal say that he was tired of talking about tests, programs, AYP, and NCLB. Instead, he said, "Let's talk about students and how much we care about helping students be successful."
Students really don't care what we know. But when they feel our care for them, they will be much more likely to care whether they learn from us or not. In today's Information Age, the world is bursting with information. And knowledge is important. But it seems that learning how to care about and for others -- a world bursting with caring -- is an even greater goal. BRAVO principals who care about others model what leadership in the Caring Age should be all about.
Article by Sandra Harris
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