Schools across the country have either already begun or are gearing up to start their year. As the year gets underway, one thing that campus leadership must keep at the forefront is how we can intentionally uplift and empower our teams on our campus. Now, don’t get us wrong – kids are always the number one priority! But, it is important to remember that an empowered, positive, and engaged staff will ultimately impact students in that same, powerful way!
What follows are a few ideas that we’ve used in our own schools that we wanted to share with you – ideas and activities that have shown to improve morale, bring people together, and amplify the important voices across across our campuses.
Sometimes just changing the traditional way a space is designed can make a huge difference. We often talk to our teachers about stretching their limits and attempting new environments like flexible seating or creating that family atmosphere. But we can’t just talk about it, we have to be about it too! One idea (that was formed by the brilliance of Adam Dovico), was to paint a space in our offices using black chalkboard paint. Why? When kids are sent to our offices for great reasons, they can grab a piece of chalk, sign the space, and be celebrated!
Another idea was to try something different with the Teacher’s Lounge. I (Todd) asked everyone on my team to send me family photos. I didn’t tell them what I was doing with them because I wanted it to be a surprise! I went to the website EasyCanvasPrints and waited until they had an 85% off sale and used all the staff photos to purchase 18×24 inch canvas prints. I used the canvas prints to cover the walls in our lounge! I also bought a metal light-up hashtag from Hobby Lobby and wooden letters that spelled “Family”. It transformed our space and created an environment where everyone in our school family could be surrounded by our individual families, many of which we don’t all get to meet! It was magical.
Especially in our fast-paced, technology-laden world, few forms of thanks and appreciation continue to be as timeless and powerful as a handwritten note. Email, Voxer, and other tech-tools certainly promote a leader’s efficiency. However, the added time it takes to write someone a handwritten note is multiplied in its impact. We are both blessed to work in schools where staff members pour their hearts and souls into their work. I (Steven) try to remember to not only highlight the “above and beyond” efforts I notice, but also the faithful diligence of the day to day. Handwritten notes are also an effective way of maintaining relationships with other stakeholder groups; dropping a quick note in the mail to a parent after a challenging meeting can go a long way in continuing to build partnership.
Phone Calls to Staff Parents
Handwritten notes are impactful and leave a lasting mark, but something just as easy and equally as powerful is picking up the phone and making a phone call. At both of our schools, we take time to call home to students’ families to celebrate them, a practice which has utterly transformed our school cultures. From there, came the thought: “why don’t we do this with the adults on our campus too?!?”, and thus, staff phone calls were born. It’s a cool moment when you can call the parent/sibling/cousin or other family member of one of your teammates and celebrate them. From calling a first grade teacher’s mom, to my assistant principal’s dad, or my music teacher’s cousin, I (Todd) have shared many heartwarming moments, with just the ability to treat adults like the big kids they are! This simple practice uplifts both staff members and their family members….and it’s FREE!
We both strongly believe in the power of relationships in education. While the relationships established between a teacher and their students have an immeasurable impact on the success of the classroom, relationships between the staff members on a campus carry a great weight as well. Kids are intuitive and notice how adults treat and feel about one another! On my campus, I (Steven) have used a variety of tools to foster a team mentality, beginning with using that word – TEAM – often! A framed word cloud with the names of our entire staff always hangs in our workroom. Staff meetings often open with a time of sharing of needs (both personal and professional), and we frequently engage in team building activities (S.T.E.M. challenges, an escape room style game, etc.) that build our team and also serve as a model of the engagement I hope to see in our classrooms!
A Seat and a Voice
Finally, one of the most critical ways to empower your team is by giving them a voice and a seat at the decision making table! So often leaders build an island and make all decisions for the campus. Even though that is the easy route from a managerial standpoint, it doesn’t make your team feel like…well, a team! It’s so important to create different committees and opportunities for all members of your school team to add their voice in different ways. Sometimes that means a face to face meeting, but sometimes it can start with a simple Google Form seeking opinions and ideas. The point is, you must include the voices of others on your campus, and be willing to listen and accept their ideas, even it it isn’t how you originally imagined things. You can’t expect to build a team when it’s being directed by a dictator.
The ideas we’ve shared in this post are just a small sample of the many different ways leaders can work to build up and empower their team, and are just a few of our favorites! What ways have you worked with your team (or seen your leader work) to bring everyone together? Please share in the comments below, and help us grow too!