Last week I blogged about how exceptional building and district leaders understand that leadership is larger than themselves, and that one of their greatest responsibilities is to develop the leadership qualities of others in their organizations. This blog post builds on that first one, by looking at the role of classroom teachers and support or related services staff in a school building. I argue what exceptional faculty, and by faculty I really mean all of the adults that come in contact with students, do differently is that they develop leadership qualities in the students with which they interact. Just as I argued in my previous piece, related to building and district leaders, I believe that the critical first step to developing the leadership capital in students is engaging, developing and cultivating relationships.
How does a faculty member go about forging meaningful relationships with students? Here are some starting points:
- Listen. Our students love to share stories with us. Your interest in the stories they share matter. What often begins as the sharing of the happenings at home over the weekend, or what took place during an extracurricular event, or during the ride into school, can lead to them opening up about their hopes, their fears, and their passions. This can be tremendously informative in figuring out how to best meet an individual child's needs, but also in finding ways to tap into talents and interests, and to encourage the leader inside that child.
- Be present. We are busy. There is hardly a moment to just sit and to think, or to contemplate, and we often find ourselves dashing from one thing to the next. Children are acutely aware of this. We need to be present to our children. They know when they have 100% of our attention, or just a fraction of it. This isn't to say that we have to continually drop everything we are doing to address a child's need immediately, but we do need to acknowledge it, arrange a mutually acceptable time to address it, and then we must address it and be fully present. We have to be consistent. Children need to know that if we say we are going to listen, and/or act we will, and in a timely fashion.
- Validate and Elevate Student Voice. There are many ways to validate and elevate student voice throughout the day, in small ways and in big ways. I will never forget the advice of a professor of mine, Dr. Barry Bennett (OISE/UT). He said something to the effect of; never repeat an answer that was provided by a student because when you do, you subconsciously tell your students that your voice is the voice that matters, the one that carries all of the authority. When we provide opportunities for peer coaching or mentoring we tap into the leadership potential of our students. When we allow students to teach adults, we not only show that as adults we can be vulnerable and admit to our weaknesses, but that we are also dedicated to learning, and that learning is not hierarchical. You may be asking what this has to do specifically with building relationships; I would argue that by validating and elevating student voice you are building trust and respect which are critical to meaningful relationships.
- Be friendly. Smile and greet students each day when they arrive. Let them know you're happy to have them there. We all prefer spending time with positive and upbeat people. Negative people drain our energy; conversely positive, upbeat people can increase our energy. Our positive attitude sets the tone for the day. It is also important to consider that more of our children are coming to us hurting and in need. School is a place of refuge, and we have an opportunity to nurture and provide an environment where healing can take place.
Clearly this is not a comprehensive list, there are many more points that could be added, and I would encourage you, if you have something that comes to mind, to added it in the comments below. This is critical work and there is much that we can learn from one another. Much the same as when leaders take the time to invest in others, having meaningful relationships develop which ultimately increase a leader's sphere of influence, when faculty take the time to invest in engaging and cultivating relationships with students, the result is a population of students that feel valued, who look forward to coming to school, who will take risks and build each other up.