Have you ever walked into a school and immediately felt a particular vibe or energy? Or maybe it wasn’t so immediate (front foyers and offices as your first stops in a school can be a little off-putting), but maybe after spending a day you walked out of that school thinking: “what a great place to learn” or “I would never let my child go there”.
I think I was oblivious to this personal tone of a school as a classroom teacher, but when I worked in system roles and spent time in many different schools I started to sense it. That led me to wonder what it is that contributes to the tone of a school? What is it that makes someone comfortable or uncomfortable? It seems to me that the more comfortable people are there the more likely they are to learn. (I have absolutely no research to back this up but it makes sense, doesn’t it?)
As a school leader, I have thought a lot about what tone I want to see in the school I am in and how I can influence it. In various ways, this has been a key piece of my professional learning in the last few years. And while I have not figured out all the ingredients to creating a positive tone in a school, I think I’ve found a few key ones.
It’s OUR school, not my school.
You can’t have one lone fish in a school of fish and you can’t have a single contributor in a school of students. It takes many contributors, many voices, many influences to make a school. The richer the tapestry, the better it is for everyone. A good school leader finds ways to weave all those voices together so everyone plays an important part.
It is one thing to say you respect other voices, opinions and ideas, but it is quite another to show it. You show it in how you listen, react and synthesize decisions.
A smile goes a long way. So does a sincere thank you or an unexpected helping hand. Learning how to shut down negativity without completely ticking off your Negative Nelly is an art form that every leader should master. We’re in a building with a whole gaggle of kids who are learning. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find something to be positive about.
You have to learn how to simultaneously focus on the big picture and see a school and all its worth presently and in the future, while also also taking time to reflect on those tiny little pieces of celebration that you would miss if you only looked too far off into the horizon. And a good leader figures out how to share both.
There are probably so many other things that contribute to that nebulous vibe you feel in a school. How do you make your school a place people want to learn in?