Setting the Tone…
As an undergraduate student, one of my professors introduced me and my peers to a poem by Haim Ginot that opened a book he wrote in the 1970s. It stated:
“I have come to a frightening conclusion.
I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis
will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
As a teacher, I kept a copy of these words near my desk as a reminder of the responsibility that I had to my students to lead our classroom by setting a tone where students could feel safe, appreciated, and accepted. Heading into the fourth week of the school year, it occurs to me that as the Principal, I have a similar responsibility to our teaching staff. My job is to set a tone where our teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians, secretaries, and support staff can be that decisive element for our students every day.
This view was reinforced last week when I read an opinion piece in Education Week by Walt Gardner. Leaders who take on formal roles have a responsibility to hold staff members accountable, to have difficult conversations when needed, and to set and maintain high expectations. However, formal leaders must also remember that those who make up the organization are people with feelings and emotions. I believe everyone that works at our school wakes up each day with a desire to succeed. I don’t think anyone comes to school to teach a poor lesson or to punish children. There’s never a need to publicly shame or mistreat a staff member.
As a principal, it is my job to create an environment where staff can be creative, collaborate, and feel safe, appreciated, and accepted. I must inspire, support and empower, not create an “us versus them” mentality. If I truly want our students to succeed, the most important work I can do is be that “decisive element” for our teachers.
As my fourth week with students begins, I can say with certainty that this is the best job I have ever had.