Every person at the school, no matter what their role, matters.
The principal, teachers, office staff, para-educators, custodians, and kitchen staff matter. And anyone associated with the school that is in the building. No one should be left out of this list.
Every single person that a student could come across in a school building on a daily basis is important an matters in the life of a school. You never know when an interaction between a staff member and a student or community member could color the entire view of the school. It can happen in a few moments and give an impression of a school that you don’t want.
I remember vividly, to this day, walking into the office of the school. I was a substitute teacher for one of the physical educators who was out that day. I showed up, checked in with the office, but was told by a secretarial staff that the teachers were in a meeting and I needed to sit and wait. So, wait I did.
As the morning drew on, I realized I did not have a timetable or lesson plans. So, being responsible, I asked the same person. She said they had something and gave me a generic set of teaching materials. Frankly, it was nothing more than basic school and district information and far short of a full timetable or lesson plans. I was told that the teachers would come and get me when the staff meeting was over. So, I sat back down.
I kept an eye on the time and realized it was getting close to the start of school. So, again, being responsible, I went up to the same staff member and asked about going to the class, getting a key, or what I should do. I said it appeared that I had a first period class that I was covering. The staff member responded, “I told you someone would come and get you when the meeting was over. Sit down and wait for them.” Now, I was younger in my career and liked the district, but I was annoyed by being treated this way. So, I my oppositional defiant nature got the better of me and I sat down.
I watched the staff meeting get out, right before school started. All the teachers left the meeting and went presumably to their classes. I did the only thing I had been told to do. I sat down and waited.
Warning bells for class rang. The class bell rang. Students arrived in the office to get their tardy slips as they were late. A solid 10 minutes into the first class period, I strolled up to the class and asked if anyone was going to come and get me. The secretary looked shocked and asked why I was still there. Well, no one came to get me. She was visibly annoyed with me when she told me to go to my class. I told her I didn’t know where I needed to go. She was even more annoyed giving me directions.
When I finally arrived at the lockerroom for my class, I learned that the teacher I was covering was a female, not a male teacher. Information that would have been helpful some time before. When I told the male teachers what had happened, they just shook their heads and apologized saying this was not the first time this had happened.
Now, imagine a front facing staff member acting that way to your parents or community members. Being annoyed that they had the audacity to ask questions or try to do the right thing. Then, responding as though it was your fault. What kind of a message does that send to the community? Is that the kind of message you want students or families getting? These are the first people the community meets when they enter the school. It does beg the question about how the rest of the school community acts.
I did have the opportunity to sub at the school again. I turned it down. The lady who organized the substitutes for the district was lovely. She asked me why and I relayed how I had been treated by the front office staff. Sadly, she said she understood and I was not the first person to say this.
It begs the question, why do we accept this? This was a staff member who dealt with the public regularly. Other staff members do not face the public, but they do face the students. They interact with the teachers and families on a regular basis. They are also sharing in the reputation of the school.
Now, I should say that I have met many front offices staff as well as other support staff in schools. In most cases, they are nothing short of amazing. They not only care for the facility, but they also look out for the kids. In fact, they often know more about some kids than the educators. They build amazing relationships with these students that we would never expect. They are valued members of the community. I make it a point to try and get to know these staff members and let them know how much I value them.
Do you know your staff members? Do you now their strengths and what they bring to the table? Do you support them and allow them to teach or work with students? Some of them bring amazing gifts to the table. For example, at one school, the school custodian built his own telescope would give star talks in the parking lot some evenings. Another example, a facilities supervisor taught students how to make paper from recycled school paper. These folks have gifts and skills to share. Let’s make use of them.
Every person in your organization is a gift. My current principal said this year that we are all called to the school for a reason. We may not know the reason yet, but we are all gifts and an answer to prayer. Those were powerful words for us. It was an acknowledgement that we are there for a reason. That we bring our gifts to the table and we will help the community thrive this year.
Imagine if every member of the school community felt that way. That connected to the school community as a whole. What a place to work that would be!
I enter the gates of my school this year and the security are smiling and saying hello to staff and students. Teachers and administrators greet each other. Students are smiling and laughing and helping each other out. Other staff support teachers and students with a smile. The community is an amazing place to be. Kids are cared for and known. Teachers are making a positive impact.
True, my school is a private school with many benefits. However, it is still a school community that is working together to lift students up. Not every private school does that. Some public schools do it better. How is your school doing?
I hope as you enter this year that you lift each other up. That you rally around your school community and recognize that everyone needs to lift and build the community. This year, more than many in the past, we need to lift our students up. Build positive, healthy communities to best teach and support our students in the coming year.
Reach out and tell me how you are doing it this year.