As a principal, the winter months – January through March – were those months of lesser disruptions. That was a good thing because these were months that afforded teachers and students quality time on task. Yet, those months also provided many challenges – resolving or attempting to resolve parent and student issues, budget and planning meetings for the upcoming school year, and evening time away from family at extracurricular events.
This stretch of time with limited or no breaks seemed to make students a bit more irritable and weary, often complaining and tattling. Parents have that opportunity to gather together in gymnasiums for sporting events between schools and often complain and seek support for their cause. And, faculty seemed more irritable, tense, more stressed, and even showed nonverbal gestures of discontentment and displeasure. The months of winter were the best and worst of times.
Gruenert and Whitaker (2017) provide leaders (principals and teachers) some helpful insights and indicators to better identify when those early warning signs of discontentment and discouragement surface. Below are just a few:
- Strive to engage students. Observe for enthusiasm or the continual lack of it from both teachers and students alike. Are we trying new and creative things as a faculty or school? Are we striving to stir up student interest in our daily preparation and instruction? Are we going that extra mile to engage the whole family in the education of their child or children?
- Encourage teachers to collaborate often and seek out guidance, support, and encouragement from yourself and each other. Ask yourself, “Have certain teachers stopped sharing concerns with you?” Ask yourself, “Is there a lot of compliance but not a lot of engagement from some or many of your faculty?” Ask yourself, “Are parents gathering more frequently in “parking lot” conversations?
- Watch for nonverbal cues. Facial expressions share a lot. Are teachers figuratively checking out of faculty meetings – becoming more withdrawn, silent, and more impatient over things that would otherwise be tackled and completed. What about that “self-preservation” posture? These “tipping point” signs are tangible indicators that one or many could use more encouragement, support, and prayer.
- Seek to maintain a healthy culture? Are teachers, parents, and students exhibiting a negative tone in your building? Are people congregating in small groups only to disperse when you approach? Assess your culture readily
- Tackle problems immediately to keep little issues from festering into big problems.
- Follow Matthew 18 in resolving conflict.
- Spend time with one another in prayer.
I experienced the doldrums of those winter months too. Those times that brought about issues that needed some effort as well as more serious issues that needed a larger amount of administrative time to bring about resolution and healing. Below are just a few helpful suggestions to assist you during these winter months:
- Maintain a ministry of presence. Get out of your office as much as possible and spend time with teachers and students. Eat lunch with different groups of students at different lunch periods; spend time at recess with students of all ages; enter classrooms and walk hallways with teachers and students; greet families prior to school starting and when school is dismissing; attend meetings between a teacher and parent as often as possible, especially when you sense an issue is escalating.
- Make sure you are praying with and for your teachers. Make yourself more available to pray for and with teachers and students. Make sure you affirm those you serve; repeat the mission of the school in faculty meetings. Take teachers and students to the foot of the Cross reminding them that Jesus intercedes constantly for His children (teachers, parents, and students). Walk humbly, admit and take ownership for your mistakes, and seek forgiveness from those who were impacted by your sin.
- Make sure you recognize bruises and celebrations. Spend even more time in classrooms, if only for 5-10 minutes. Participate in what I call “drop-in” moments at the end of the day where the teacher is packing up and preparing to depart for the evening. Unexpected and frequent moments afford you that opportunity to discover those current celebrations or bruises of teachers and students alike.
- Spend time on those things you can fix. Be careful with conversations that triangulate other people or even oneself. You know how they begin, “I heard from someone that ….but will not provide you with a name or names of those sharing information. The parent who comments, “I was just hearing but don’t really want to get involved, that…” and then proceeds with “many parents are disgruntled with this as well.” You get the point. Encourage parents to follow Matthew 18 when dealing with issues and handle “hearsay” conversations from a Biblical perspective. Dwell more on solutions rather than problems. Encourage yourself to redirect teachers and parents to engage in conversations that enhance instruction and the overall organizational efficiency and effectiveness of your institution.
School Culture Recharged Strategies to Energize Your Staff and Culture (Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker 2017) may provide a few more helpful tidbits not only to gauge the attitude of your people and your culture but offer some helpful suggestions as well.
A few suggestions that I offer are as follows:
- Spend time in daily devotion and prayer with your teachers.
- Enter classrooms and pray with students.
- Allow the Holy Spirit the means to strengthen one another’s faith. Lead, invite, and engage parents in monthly Bible studies on a Sunday morning and one evening a week. Such times provide the Holy Spirit the means to grow our Christian faith as a body of believers and rejoice in the blessing of that Christian partnership we share because of Jesus, our Risen Lord and Savior.
Dr. Jon Mielke, Superintendent Lutheran Schools