Managing people is one of the most difficult and rewarding aspects of being a leader. In my professional career, I’ve found that the stress of managing personalities decreases when management is approached as a process that is focused on creating avenues of success. As an educational leader, I find myself in a challenging position–I’m charged with ensuring the academic growth of my students and the professional growth of my faculty. One can’t happen without the other. To accomplish those goals, I believe I must make sure that each member of my teaching faculty feels safe.
Ideally, I want everyone who walks into my school building to feel an overwhelming sense of positivity and warmth. I spend a great deal of time thinking about the morale of my teachers. It’s something that is seemingly intangible but can have an enormous impact on the learning and growing environment of any school. After having many conversations over the years with various administrators at different schools, it’s clear to me that some administrators believe that they are not responsible for the social-emotional health of their teachers. They believe that teachers should learn to manage their own feelings, just as lawyers, plumbers, nurses, and other professionals must do in order to complete their daily job functions. I can understand this line of thinking; however, my counterargument is that teachers’ feelings and opinions about a school can leak into their teaching practice no matter how professional they are attempting to be. I strongly believe that if my teachers feel safe and happy then my students will be safe and happy. And the only path to that happiness is a path built on trust.
Building trust is a challenging yet worthwhile process in every institution. Specifically, in a school, trust needs to be given initially by all involved and monitored frequently by the community. Families trust a school immediately when they drop off their children at the school doors, and administrators trust immediately when they hire a new teacher. The factor that is a bit more difficult in this equation is a teacher’s trust of the administration. I sometimes wonder why those relationships are often so tenuous.
When I was starting out as a new teacher, I feared that the administration at my school expected perfection from me, and if I could not attain perfection I would lose my job. I felt stuck in a power vacuum and that feeling consumed me. Looking back, I know I wasn’t working at my best because I was super stressed. From that experience, I’ve learned that negative feelings breed a sense of insecurity. When I became an administrator I vowed to make sure that none of my teachers ever felt the way I felt back then. I purposefully approach each day, each person and each interaction in my school as a moment to build trust between myself and my teachers. I truly believe that when teachers feel safe and there is trust between them and administrators the school can grow into being excellent.
I believe that everyone can and should strive toward excellence. To be clear, I don’t expect each individual to be excellent at my school because I don’t even know if attaining true excellence is possible in a school. I simply believe that if everyone strives to be better each day then that dedication will inevitably make the school excellent. Each day, I am charged with guiding, pushing, even at times carrying my teachers toward excellence. I take these hard tasks on because I believe in the mission and vision of my school and I trust that my teachers believe in them too.
Administrators are just humans managing humans, and as so we must be clear in our communication, honest in our feedback and discussions, and open to reflection and change. When administrators remember to do these key things, the entire school will be afforded the reality of safety, trust and excellence.