Big Payoff through Small Moves

One of the things that I am still adjusting to as a new assistant principal is managing my time and being able to build positive relationships with students. When I first assumed my position, I had big plans of regularly scheduled blocks of time to meet with students, especially the ones that I had grown quite close to over the years. And then I quickly realized that there are days that I have much less control over my schedule and sometimes more fires to put out than I imagined. Despite that, I still actively work to develop stronger relationships with students because spending time up front building a relationship will pay dividends later. Although small, I’ve tried to be intentional about:

Reading a book that I know a kid will like and then give it to them. Just the other day I read Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down, and I knew right away that I had to get it into a student’s hands. The internal conflict that the main character faces is similar to this student’s very decision he is making in regards to his own life. I was so excited to get this book into this young man’s hands, and I could tell from his reaction that he was surprised. And he soon indicated to me that he’d never before had an adult read a book and think of him.

Sending a positive post card. Working with teenagers truly is wonderful. There are so many small things that can go unnoticed throughout the day, but I can assure you that I am surrounded by so many young people who will make truly great adults. From volunteering to help a student carry her backpack as she heals physically to helping another student out who has collapsed, young people amaze me. I really enjoy sending out these small notes to parents and guardians who don’t get the pleasure of seeing such great behavior on a nearly daily basis.

Calling a student down to celebrate positive news and achievement. I don’t like to call students to my office during class, but I have quickly realized that for some students, it has been a really—and I mean really—long time since they have heard something positive about themselves. Every now and then when I “drop in” to check on students’ grades and I notice something positive, I have to let them know. Small reminders of hard work and progress matter, and it’s even a bigger deal for a principal to recognize that hard work.

Just saying, “Hi.” I truly believe that every young person who walks in our doors should be spoken to at least once each day, but I know that there are some students who probably are not spoken to at all. When I pass students in the hallway, I intentionally try to model good behavior and friendliness, saying “Hi” to many students, even the ones I don’t know. I may not know a student that well, but I can show that I care about their success and well-being by just saying something so simple.

Noticing small changes in behavior and mannerisms. This is similar to the move directly before, but a little more complicated. When we see young people every day, even if it’s only in passing, we can begin to notice patterns of behavior and mannerisms. If a student is usually smiling every day when you pass them in the hall and today they are not, then I have found it makes a huge difference to talk to them about this. By acknowledging that you have noticed a change, it signals to the student that you see them every day, even if you don’t talk to them. And when you notice a change, you care.

Following up, even when it’s easier not to. Even if it might not seem a big deal to us, students appreciate when we follow up on what seems like a big deal to them. If they’re sick, we can ask them if they’re feeling better. If they’re having a rough time, we can ask if things have improved. If they mention an upcoming test, we can ask how they did. I’ve found that when I follow up with a student, it shows that I really listened to the small details they’ve shared with me and that I’ve really “heard” them.

What are some small things that you do that you think really signal to students you care?

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