Six Positive Messages for School and Program Leaders
As we begin a new school year, it’s important to remember that school leaders play a large role in defining school culture, and that both administrators and teachers play a role in making all people—adults and children—feel safe and included, so that everyone feels safe, valued, included, and respected.
Our Six Positive Messages eBook is a guide to cultivating a positive school culture by communicating six uplifting and empowering messages to the children through the classroom environments and the classroom communities that teachers and children build together.
But individual classrooms aren’t the only places where these messages serve an important purpose, nor is their power limited to children alone. When program leaders intentionally convey similar messages to faculty, staff, and families, the entire school community benefits. We spoke to former school leaders at Teaching Strategies about their experiences and adapted those messages to provide guidance on creating an encouraging, uplifting back-to-school culture.
- “This is a good place to be.”
The intent of this message is to reassure children, educators, and staff that they will enjoy being in your school and feel safe there. How do you encourage educators to look forward to work each day? When Nicol Russell, Vice President of Implementation and Research at Teaching Strategies, was a childcare center director, she demonstrated this message by conducting daily check-ins with each teacher when they came into work. In her words, “I intentionally worked on not slamming them with all the things that were not going well or the crises of the day before I asked ‘How are you?’ It is a seemingly small gesture, but I found that it helped teachers like coming to work in the morning (or afternoon) when they knew I cared about them as human beings first, then as employees.”
- “You belong here.”
This is a message of acceptance. By sending this message, you help children, families, teachers, and staff feel accepted for who they are and encourage them to build connections with others. How do you help educators appreciate different types of people (e.g., other educators, staff, children, and families) and learn to find similarities that form the foundation of strong connections? As a center director, Arpen Jhaveri, Account Executive for Inside Sales at Teaching Strategies, hosted what he called “Wonderful Wednesdays” where he would meet with teachers and as a group celebrate moments in which a classroom or an educator demonstrated excellence. Specific classrooms would take turns bringing snacks to share with everyone. It’s little moments like these that make educators feel included and energized about their work.
- “This is a place you can trust.”
This message is about reliability. Young children crave consistency, routine, and structure, and those same principles can create a trustworthy environment that helps educators and staff rely on leadership and feel safe to unleash their creativity and big ideas. How do you communicate reliability and consistency to teachers and staff members?
Lesley Jennings is currently an education consultant at Teaching Strategies. When she held a position as a program supervisor for a large school district, she built trust between her and her staff by being the one to “stand between [teachers] and trouble. If I could at all see something headed their way, worry not, because I would stand in the gap to the best of my ability.” On top of that, Jennings argues that it is important to “inspect what you expect” and be sure to validate your coworkers’ efforts by not letting their efforts go to waste or asking them to do tasks that are not necessary.
- “You are respected as a professional.”
This message is about respect: respect for teachers and staff as individuals and professionals. How do you let them know that you respect them, both as educators of young children and as individuals with lives outside of school? As a childcare center director, Nicol made a point of letting teachers know in advance when she would observe their classrooms, what she was observing for, and how she would give them feedback. Afterwards, Nicol checked in with the teacher and gave them an opportunity to share their own perspective and thoughts before offering any comments of her own. It was important to her to demonstrate respect for educators by listening to and seeking out the thoughts and perspectives of her teachers rather than insisting on her own perspective above all others.
- “You have opportunities to grow and develop your skills.”
This message is about growth. All educators, from first-year teachers to veterans, can learn new things and grow their skills, including from each other. Giving educators opportunities to grow their practice allows them to become the best educators they can be. How do you support educators’ growth? In her former district, Lesley created a committee called T.A.P.P. (Teachers and Paras Presents) to elevate teachers and assistant teachers who stood out for any reason (e.g., created amazing videos, always licensing compliant, or hosted well-attended and interactive family meetings). During meetings, members presented on a variety of topics, devised new classroom-friendly policies, vetted new procedures, worked closely with administrators, and participated in additional training. When new positions needed to be filled, they worked to promote from within this group, so that teachers and staff saw a clear path for career growth.
- “This is a safe place to explore.”
This message is about confidence. To do their personal best, teachers need the freedom to try new things without fear. How do you give teachers the confidence to experiment and try new things, without fear of failure?
Laura Batson, Leavenworth USD 453’s Director of Teaching & Learning, created a “Dare to Fail” initiative for her teachers. She challenged teachers to share moments when they tried something new that turned out differently than they had hoped. They asked each other questions to guide discussions about what went “wrong” and how to improve in the future. Anyone who shared in this way was rewarded with a small gift card for snacks, to thank them for their vulnerability. This practice created a space where teachers were encouraged to try new things and find their own “teachable moments,” regardless of how the experience turned out.
The first six weeks are an important time to establish the environment in which your learning community will operate for the coming year, not only for the children, but also for the adults. Consistently conveying these six positive messages can help make your school culture one that is overtly collaborative, inclusive, and respectful for everyone who is lucky enough to be a part of your program.
Download the original eBook this blog was inspired by, Six Positive Messages to Guide a Year of Teaching and Learning, for more inspiration on creating a safe and welcoming school environment.