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Dr. Tisha Shipley has been in education for 17 years. She has taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, Gifted and Talented 3rd-6th Grades, Dr. Shipley was an elementary principal, a cheer coach, and was on...
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How Leaders Can Build a Positive Culture and Community

Leaders in a school have a huge impact on teachers, staff, faculty, families, students and the community. They have the ability to teach, model, engage, collaborate and communicate.  Leaders and administrators wear many hats and have a lot of responsibilities that take courage, organizational skills, the ability to communicate and the expertise to support, encourage and build others up.  As I moved up from teaching many different grades to then leading an elementary school and then becoming a leader at the University level I used skills from each of the leaders I had encountered in my 18 years in education.   I want to share some of the things I have done as a leader that I feel worked to ensure that I was building the best culture and community that I could for those I worked with.

1. Build a positive community where everyone is valued, welcomed and appreciated:   This is just like being a teacher in the classroom. The community is a huge part of the WHY we want to be somewhere. 

2.  Ask for ideas and input:  Your staff and faculty will have great ideas, but you won’t know them unless you ask.

3.  Be visible:  Be around the school building, go by classrooms before and or after school and ask if you can do anything for them.  Show the students you are there, give them a high five in the hallway, and learn the names of all students.  I stood at the front of the building outside every single morning to wave and greet families and children.

4. Schedule time with your staff and faculty: Have meetings to keep the staff and faculty abreast of what is happening, things changing etc.

5. Tell them what your expectations are:  How do you want the community to run and why.  Get input on what they think is going well, and you share as well. 

6. Let them know what they can expect out of you and your leadership style: Your staff and faculty will appreciate you being open and honest about who you are as a person and the leadership style you identify with.  How will you lead?  You can even share your mission, vision and philosophy.  Have them help you write out great expectations for your community.

7. Support your teachers:  Issues and problems will arise.  Teachers need to know you have their back. There may be a mess up somewhere, but always support your teacher and their choices and then go from there.  They may have made a mistake but how will you handle it moving forward is the question.

8. Model for your teacher: You know curriculum, you know research, you know what is best for children. Your teachers and staff do too, but they need to see you choosing the best curriculum, supporting the arts, physical education and play as vehicles to growth and development. Model for them what is best.

9. Encourage: This can be accomplished in so many ways.  Encourage them to write a grant, to learn a new skill, to attend a professional development, to try a new teaching strategy. Encourage them to be the best version of themselves and it will reflect on their classroom teaching.

10. Engage: Don’t sit back, if you ask your teachers to write a grant write one with them, be on committees, speak up but let others think and share also.

11. Make RELEVANT and Timely professional development available: This is so important because often time for various reasons such as money, we bring in someone to provide PD, but it doesn’t really resonate with everyone.  If we are going to spend the time and money and have our teachers engage, it must be relevant to what they do each day.

12.  Be able to support them with funds: This means writing the budget to where there is still money for a rainy-day fund and or extra materials at the end of the year.  Sometimes you have to get creative.

13.  Be transparent: This means sharing real, honest sometimes raw news or ideas with your team that not everyone will agree with. If you are transparent they will learn to respect what you are sharing with them and they will understand you are keeping them in the loop.

14. Share with them your ideas and what you are thinking: Tell them what is working, what isn’t working, how you plan to make something better, what you are going to do away with and why. 

15. Have an Open-door policy:  Allow your families, teachers, students, staff and faculty to come in your office to stop you in the building any time they need something.  Often they just need you to listen and be supportive.

16.  Meet with teachers one on one: Take that time to get to know each one on an individual basis and be able to have that reciprocal relationship.

17.  Know your staff and faculty:  Know their families, names, vacations, interests etc.

18. Take Recess and lunch duties: Try to give your staff and faculty “extra time” or a break when you can.  They will respect and value your leadership style.

19.  Hand Written notes: A simple thank you goes a long way. I did this every Friday with a candy bar or candy, either on their desk or in their mailbox in the teachers lounge.  Everyone loves to hear they are doing well!

20.  Don’t ask them to do things you wouldn’t yourself do:  I have done many things such as substituting when we couldn’t find someone to come in, I did the crosswalk guard for a long time, I have cleaned bathrooms, classrooms, vacuumed the halls and served lunches. They want to see you being a part of the community.  Jump in!

21.  Continue to learn and be a life long researcher: This is something that is near and dear to my heart because I don’t think we can ever stop learning.  Buy your teachers new technology, share with them books that you have found beneficial and continue sharing new practices and strategies that you are learning about.

22. Have potluck lunches, Christmas exchanges etc:  This may sound like something small and insignificant but bringing people together for fun times is something we all want to do with each other. It builds a team and shows support of everyone in the community.

At the beginning I said build a positive community.  All 22 of these things help you do that.  There are of course going to be other things you will support and encourage and that is perfectly fine!  You find YOUR leadership style. You figure out what your mission, vision and philosophy will be for your center and never stop being the best you can be!