In a time of uncertainty, it is more important than ever for principals to model the characteristics they wish to see in teachers. Educators will mirror a positive attitude, calm demeanor, and solution minded outlook when that is what they see from the building leader.
Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) and Julius Campbell (Wood Harris) are unable to co-exist as defensive standouts on the T.C. Williams High School football team in Remember the Titans. This conversation starts with Gerry half-heartedly trying to learn details about Julius’ life so that he can placate Coach Boone (Denzel Washington), who will ask him to talk about his teammate. The topic quickly shifts to Julius and Gerry critiquing each other for their play on the field.
During the back and forth, Julius is criticized for playing selfish football, leaving his teammates “out to dry.” To counter, Julius condemns Gerry for not getting on the white offensive lineman for failing to block for Rev (Craig Kirkwood), the black quarterback. Gerry’s silence equals his acknowledgement. Julius explains that he will continue to lookout only for himself.
Not wanting Julius to “win” the conversation, Gerry states, “That’s the worst attitude I ever heard.” Julius poetically finishes with, “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.”
Gerry has no rebuttal, because Julius is right. Even though Julius is not listening to his coaches or making plays in the best interest of his teammates, Gerry has no grounds to chastise him, because Gerry is not portraying the leadership qualities necessary to bring together a racially divided team.
As student return to schools, there are a lot of unanswered questions. Teachers are playing out worst case scenarios. There is a pervasive glass half empty mentality sweeping the nation. The worry and concern are justifiable. But, the fact of the matter is kids are coming back, and we need to be ready for them.
What do our students need?
They need teachers to make them feel safe. When the classroom door closes, the outside noise needs to be turned down. The emphasis has to be on teaching and learning and not the uncertainty of the future.
What do our teachers need?
They need principals to make them feel safe. When the building door closes, the outside noise needs to be turned down. The emphasis has to be on teacher and learning and not the uncertainty of the future.
The best way for a principal to support educators is to model the traits they hope teachers will model for their students.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. It may be difficult for others to see, but it is the principal’s responsibility to bring it into view for the staff. Approach the day with optimism and the mindset that things will continue to get better.
Students are the energy that makes a building run. A school is transformed from a sterile workplace to a warm environment when kids return. Focus on the joy, curiosity, and love of learning that they will inevitably bring back to schools.
Always share what you are grateful for. Even during a pandemic, there is a lot to celebrate. The amount of ingenuity, creativity, patience, grace, and understanding from teachers is at an all-time high. Take a moment to acknowledge all the wonderful things teachers are doing.
Teachers will look to the principal when problems occur. What you want to hear them saying is, “If they’re not worried, than neither am I.”
Things are going to go wrong. Things go wrong when there is not a global pandemic. It is the response to the problem that makes all the difference.
In preparing for the return of students, a lot of time and energy is being put into process, procedures, structures, and systems. Some of that time will have been wasted, because there are factors that cannot be known until students return to the building. When things do not go as planned there is a natural inclination to stress. But, if you accept the reality that plans will need to be reworked beforehand, you are less likely to lose your cool when issues arise.
Now that you are remaining calm when all your plans fall apart, it is time to start taking action. Staff will fixate on the problem when no one is working on a solution. Move quickly to brainstorming ideas, because that shifts the energy from negative to productive.
Utilize as many staff members as possible when searching for solutions. This helps in a number of ways. Most importantly, teachers and instructional assistants have a boots on the ground perspective, which enables them to flush out potential problems and address unique details. Second, it helps minimize anxiety. People fear the unknown. But, with everyone collaborating on a plan, no one is nervously waiting to be told what to do. They have a say in what “we” do. Finally, what ultimately gets a staff through a pandemic is the culture of the building. When everyone works together the family atmosphere of a building is strengthened
As a principal, it is important to know that teachers will look to see how you react to challenges over the next six months. It is imperative that principals model calmness, positivity, and attack problems with a solution mindset, because that is what we hope teachers demonstrate for their students. After all, “Attitude reflects leadership, principal.”