Oscar Romano graduated from Harvard in 2009 and joined Teach For America. He taught 8th grade science for two years at HISD’s Fondren Middle School before starting his career at YES Prep Brays Oaks. Now in his 6th year at YES Prep, he is a Director of Student Support. The post below was originally published on his personal blog.
Earlier this year, during a coach-in with Kellen Hayes, one of our teacher leaders, I asked him what he was most proud of. He shared with me that he has been doing a lot to promote a strong and positive climate with the staff members on his team. He’s shouted them out in emails and praised them for the great work they’ve done. He said he wanted to build a strong rapport with his team before work really started to get busy, but was looking for suggestions on how to keep the positivity going without creating unrealistic expectations for himself. Essentially, how do you go about building a positive culture with your team utilizing reasonable and replicable measures? There’s no point in working toward building a positive culture if your efforts are unsustainable.
This got me thinking about something I’ve learned through books and my own experiences – every interaction is an opportunity to build rapport. It’s not necessarily about the big events or initiatives you establish, but about the day to day interactions we have with one another. A school leader needs to be mindful of every interaction they have with a staff member as those can have a bigger influence on the staff culture than the annual holiday dinner.
Here are five strategies you can implement to help you build a positive culture with staff members at your school:
- Check-in with them randomly. There are few things that can be as meaningful to a staff member as a leader checking in on him/her to see how s/he is doing. The simple act of stopping what you are doing to speak to them says volumes around where the school leader’s priorities lie.
- Invite them to conversations. Oftentimes, staff members have an abundance of opinions they would like to share with a school leader, but don’t necessarily feel like they have the forums to do so. Provide them that forum by inviting them to conversations through office hours that teachers sign up for or check-ins that happen 2-3 times a year.
- Stay fully engaged in conversations. The aforementioned strategies are great ways to start conversations, but there’s nothing worse you can do while you’re in the midst of a conversation than to act disengaged. Disengagement takes a variety of forms, but some of the most common are: checking your phone, avoiding eye contact, interrupting the speaker, and working on something else.
- Give up your power. Regardless what you might think, there will always be a power dynamic between you and the staff members at your school. Work toward lessening the power dynamic gap by being intentional with your conversations. You can schedule conversations outside your office in a common area or their classroom and let them doing most of the talking.
- Provide immediate positive feedback. Feedback should be tied to recent actions and there’s nothing better than when it happens right after the fact. Some examples of when you can take advantage of immediate feedback are after witnessing: teacher presence in the hallway, teachers holding students accountable, and teachers using an engaging strategy in the classroom.
These strategies might seem intimidating at first, because of the countless interactions each of us have with staff members every single day. After a while, however, it becomes effortless and has lasting side effects for you and your staff. There’s no better feeling that walking around a school sharing positive feedback to those around you. The outlook of your day becomes that much brighter and the recipients become more engaged, making it more likely that they pay it forward with positivity to others.