Five simple strategies to improve relationships at your school


Relationships Eat Strategy for Breakfast

First confession- I misquoted Peter Drucker. I did it intentionally. His famous quote is, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This idea alone has led organizations as big as Apple and as small as the local mom and pop shop down the street to re-think the way they do things.

But personally, I think the phrase “relationships eat strategy for breakfast” has more implication for transforming our schools. For school leaders, the term is much more concrete and tangible, and has implication for immediate action.

It has also proven to bring big results.

Research shows that organizations with more collaborative or trusting relationships are far more likely to show signs of improvement and innovation (Bryk & Schneider, 2002)

Yet oftentimes, in an educational climate enamored with quick fixes and strategic action, it’s the last thing we focus on.

What might our schools look like if we took time to build relationships to ensure that everyone in the school knew each other? Or to understand a bit more about what happens in each other’s lives outside of the classroom?

You see, relationships build trust. And trust inevitably leads to supporting the kind of courageous improvement we are seeking to promote in schools.

Here are five practical strategies to ensure that happens:

Strategy #1: Weekly Recognitions

How do you start your weekly or bi- weekly staff meetings? Is it with the meeting agenda and crucial objectives you want to achieve? Or is it with something a little more “human?"

Save the agenda and objectives for later. Replace it with something that’s sure to get your staff’s attention right away: Staff Recognitions. Display a few pictures you snapped during the week of your staff leading incredible learning experiences for their students, and recognize them for their accomplishments. Next, invite your whole staff to offer specific recognitions for deserving colleagues. Celebrating in such a way will set a positive tone for the more technical items you need to share.

Strategy #2: Celebrate the small things

Similar to the strategy above, this strategy invites us to celebrate the things that typically go unnoticed. Things like the local 5 or 10k run that five of your staff members competed in, or the volunteer work your librarian completed at the nearby YMCA. Noticing these things will show your staff that you value the things they care about. It will also increase their likelihood of accepting the objectives you have to share.

Strategy #3: Shrink the size of your teams

What are the teaming structures in your school? Are they centered around grade levels and discipline- specific content, or are they centered around a small and focused group of students? It’s good to have both. In general, the smaller the teams, the closer the relationships, and the bigger the results. Smaller teams allow work to be focused and action oriented. They can make decisions faster, which lead to more rapid improvement.

Strategy #4: Create “critical friends”

Do you pair your new staff with a veteran teaching partner? If so, what structures have you created for the time that they meet? Teachers want to feel connected. They spend most of their days behind close doors, lesson planning, grading, and instructing a group of students with little time for interaction with their colleagues. Pairing them with another teacher ensures they are able to get outside of their four walls and improve their practice. Provide your critical friend teams with goal setting forms and protocols to ensure they are working towards actionable outcomes. Find out more about that here. http://www.nsrfharmony.org/about-us/faq

Strategy #5: More play and parties

“All work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy.” We all remember this famous line from “The Shining.” It’s delivered by a deranged writer who has spent four months locked in a hotel only to find he has not written a single word of his book. School can sometimes feel like that morose hotel. Sometimes all it takes to counteract this trend is to simply be silly! Wear crazy outfits; start staff meetings with humorous stories or your favorite jokes. Give your staff nick names! Place your staff’s faces on dancing characters (jib jab) and watch as they digitally perform their favorite tune! Create daily themes and create silly awards for the winners. It might seem paradoxical, but by Infusing humor and fun into your school, you will provide the space to do the more challenging work.

Strategy #6: In Closing

As is the case with any reform measure you introduce, you have to be intentional about the greater purpose they serve. Relationships are no different. They take time and intentionality to develop. By creating the space and structure for them to thrive, you will signal to your staff that school is more than a series of systematic reforms and strategic initiatives. Instead, you will humanize the work you are trying to accomplish, and most likely, elicit the support of your staff.

As always, thank you for all you do!

What do you do to improve relationships at your school? I would love to hear your story. Shoot me an email at kylewagner@transformschool.com and I will be sure to include it in my next blog post!

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Kyle Wagner
School Transformation and Project- Based Learning Coach

I coach school leaders on how to lead change and improve student learning through simple, innovative srategies and teaming structures.

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