It was simpler as a teacher. In my thirteen years in the classroom making meaningful connections with students was my first priority. Sure, we had books to read and papers to write, but I knew that kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like (at least not what the curriculum says they should), and I knew that if I was engaged and honest, passionate and kind, then I’d have a chance to make difference.
I’m a principal now, in classrooms more as an observer than a teacher, and those meaningful connections grow in a different petri dish.
Lunch is a great time to get to know students, supervision an excuse for conversations with teenagers in their natural habitat. As students see me out on campus every day it becomes easier for them to see me as someone they can talk with. Certainly kids’ focus is, and should be, on each other, but as they know that we’re all part of something greater it’s possible to connect over the shared topic of our school.
Big parts of school happen outside the hours of eight to three, so being at after school activities matters a lot when it comes to connecting with students. Staying to hear a concert or watch a robotics competition, and maybe even participating in student vs staff Comedy Sportz matches, goes a long way in helping students know that principals are almost human. Staying and caring. Students notice cell phones at ballgames and respect that lack of engagement as much as a teacher would in Biology class.
(When I have my phone out at a student event, I’m Tweeting! Honest!)
Being truly present, whether at a track meet or a dance recital is vital in establishing meaningful connections. It’s just as important to show that respect when listening to students. Teengers can sense disingenuousness in a heartbeat.
As I attend events and stay visible on campus, three other goals are part of my plan for connecting with kids as I begin a new school year.
First, I want students to see me teach. It’s why I got into education in the first place, and I think that it’s in the give and take of a classroom discussion that the truest connections at a school really happen.
Second, I want kids to see me play, and sometimes play the fool. In my time as an administrator I’ve taken pies to the face, had ice water dumped over my head, and let students make me up as a zombie. I don’t know what this year ahead has in store, but whatever it is, I’m game. Kids should see their principal laugh.
Finally, I want students at my school to see me as a person. I know I’ll never be as important to the kids as their favorite teachers, but I want them to know me more than I did (or didn’t) know the folks at the helm of the schools I attended.
Every time the students at my school see me watch a play or come to a game with my own kids, I feel like my persona as the guy in the tie expands a bit. I’m the principal, sure, but I’m also a human, like them. …or at least like their parents.
So this year I hope to connect with students by listening, laughing, teaching, and leading with my heart.