Teach & Serve
No. 3 * August 18, 2015
Related Content from And There Came A Day:
How Does This Affect Our Students?
We ask ourselves a hundred questions a day as teachers in schools but what’s the most important question?
One of my good friends from college (whom I refer to often as “The Esteemed Principal”, partly to tease him as only a friend of over 20 years can but primarily because I hold him in such great esteem) has been a principal for years. He’s a very smart guy, funny and quick, and he knows where to put his energy in terms of his leadership. More fundamentally, he knows where to encourage the people he serves to direct their energy.
I was chatting with him on Facebook or on Twitter (powerful, powerful networking tools, my friends – don’t underestimate them) about his new posting for this school year, his first principalship of a high school, to congratulate him on the new gig. It’s going to be a great situation for him but, more importantly, having him at a new school will make that school better. Count on it.
I was in high school administration for years, one of those years as an acting principal, and I know the importance of vision. In order to continue to be successful, in order to reach for their highest potential, schools ought to have vision. Let me be clearer: they must have vision.
In this very brief conversation about his new post, my friend said something to me about his vision for schools that I hope I never forget.
In anticipating speaking one-on-one with the new staff with whom he will journey he told me that he has a question he wants to ask at the outset of each chat. He told me that, thinking in advance about the talks he’ll have as he settles in with a new staff and as he works for them, he has a question he likes to pose to educators.
The conversations that take place in schools are as many and varied as the people who work in them and as diverse as the students they serve. The conversations that take place in the principal’s office are likewise varied – sometimes commonplace, sometimes portentous – but a servant leader moves from the desk to engage and take on any and all comers. The servant leader doesn’t shy away from talking. And the topics of these conversations range from the specific to the general, from the communal to the individual. The stakes here are as likely to be fairly low as they are to be extremely high.
Much comes to the leader – requests for time off, comments about colleagues, consternation about schedules, opinions about all manner of things. Sometimes come compliments. Other times come critiques. The leader with the door open receives all of these with as open a heart and mind as possible.
Surely a good conversationalist can navigate these conversations. A skilled communicator can engage on them. An adequate manager can, well, manage them.
But is that what school leadership is called to do? Is that all there is to communication with colleagues?
All too often the manner in which conversations are addressed is that they are handled and, while there is much to say about the power of communication and the power held by the leader in handling communication with staff, that’s a topic for another time.
My good friend, The Esteemed Principal, doesn’t handle people. Rather, he asks them a question. It’s a question he asks those who come to his office no matter the circumstance. It’s a question that is central – should be central – to any conversation taking place in the principal’s office or, surely, in the school over all. It’s a question that is powerful. It’s a question all of us engaged in the work of education should ask, not with regularity, but consistently. Daily. At each-and-every opportunity.
Asking the question is not a tactic, but an essential framing of communication in a school, a way of calling to the fore what the focus of adults in school should be.
The question is: “How does this help students?”
Think about that for a moment.
Whatever the issue, whatever the concern, whatever the impetus for conversation in a school, isn’t this the fundamental reason the conversation should be occurring? Shouldn’t this always be our focus as educators?
“How does this help students?” It’s an excellent question.
I am not sure there’s a better one.