The New Leader on Campus: Importance of Building Relationships

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  • There are many ways to get to know your team as a new building leader: staff survey, meet and greet time, over lunch, and collaborative planning.
  • Be visible, notice and name the great things you see by being specific in your language.
  • Show appreciation by understanding the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

Building relationships with new staff can come with challenges, especially for new leaders. When a new administrator walks onto a new campus, they have big shoes to fill. Shoes that have already been filled with wants and needs by the staff. With new leadership can come new visions and new requests, some looking for a change or some looking for consistency. Staff may be looking for someone new to come in and spice things up while others may be looking for someone to keep everything the way it was. So how do you know who to please? How do you know where to start?

Building a Team

Leadership isn’t about making everyone happy; but it IS about building relationships. It’s commonly said that great leaders don’t tell people what to do, they do it WITH them. A boss may say “Go” but a leader says “Let’s go.” As a new leader, it is important to start with the foundation of relationships. Take time to get to know each staff member and their vision for the school. What do they feel has been going well? What do they think should change? Giving teachers and staff the time to express their feelings about the campus will help you prioritize your areas of work. Reflect on what needs to be copied, what needs to be revised, and what needs to be deleted. This allows them to also have choice and voice in the vision of their school.

There are a few ways you could spend time getting to know your staff and learning about their needs, wants, and ideas.

Staff Survey – If you use a staff survey, be sure to include a video introducing yourself and the purpose of the survey when you send it out. This gives it a personal touch and feels more meaningful to staff.

Meet & Greet – Set a date and time for staff to stop by your office or a common area to chit chat. Know your questions ahead of time that you would like to ask; I would keep it to two or three for time’s sake. Then allow them to ask you one to two questions.

Lunch & Learn – Sit in the teacher’s lounge or cafeteria one day and give teachers the opportunity to eat lunch with you and share whatever they would like. Be attentive and conversational as you get to learn about others.

Collaborative Planning – Use the first staff meeting or professional learning day to encourage teachers to share their vision for the school. You might use anchor charts posted around the room with different questions or headings. Invite teachers to discuss and respond to the questions in groups. Collaboratively read through the responses and come to a common consensus for the next steps.

Leadership isn’t about making everyone happy; but it IS about building relationships. It’s commonly said that great leaders don’t tell people what to do, they do it WITH them. Click To Tweet

Be Visible

Another way to build relationships with your campus is by being visible. Staff and students need to know that you care about what is happening throughout the school. Take time once the school year begins to be in and out of rooms. Compliment teachers, praise students, and share the great things you are seeing! When you share, make it personal. Name the teacher; Name the student. Share it in an email, school announcement, or on social media. Show that you have pride in your teachers, students, and school.

Show Appreciation

To continue this momentum and dig deeper into staff relationships, I suggest taking the time to get to know each staff’s appreciation language. This comes from the concept of The 5 Love Languages created by Gary Chapman. In his book, he shares that people have a primary and secondary love language. When they receive this specific type of love, they feel it. Sometimes we think we are showing others we care, but our methods may not resonate with them and go unnoticed or unwanted. So, it is important to identify each person’s individual love language. Below are the specific types of work appreciation languages, and explanations. I would suggest surveying your staff to see which one they appreciate the most. Record these responses and use them as you interact with teachers throughout the school year. Show them value all year long and not just during Teacher Appreciation Week at the end of the school year.

Words of Affirmation

Acknowledgment, Praise, Compliment – Use your words to show others you care. Write a note. Send a Card. Verbally share. Use phrases like:

“I noticed….”

“I like how…”

“You did a good job at …”

“I appreciate …”

“Thank you for …”

Quality Time

This can go two ways. It could be time spent with you, uninterrupted. This might be like some of the ideas shared above where teachers feel truly seen and heard. The other way this love language could be used is by giving them time back. Cancel a meeting. Use an email instead. Cover a duty. Give teachers quality time to get done what they need to get done. Give them a break. Use time with them efficiently to not waste time that can be used for other teacher things.

Acts of Service

This is when you do something for them that is meaningful. Talk to the angry parent. Handle the student. Create a resource. Simplify a task. Anything you can do to make their lives just a little easier for the moment. Take something off their plate so they can refocus somewhere else. I like to reflect on importance here. Is it more important for them to make those copies or pull a tutoring group after school? If you have the time or can assign the task somewhere else, do it! Give them the time to focus on what matters.

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Tangible Gifts

Gifts that say, “I noticed.” With tangible gifts, I like to be meaningful with the purpose. Have staff fill out a survey of their favorite items. Use that list to give a token of appreciation every once in a while, or when you notice they need it the most. It could be as simple as a cup of coffee or post-it notes for the classroom or as extravagant as a gift card for a family dinner. You decide what works best for you and your budget. I always kept my office stocked with food goodies, candy, coffee bar, and small classroom supplies. Teachers knew if they needed a piece of chocolate or soda to get through the day, they could drop by and grab one at any time. I personally budgeted this expense as part of my stewardship. I believed my job was to support my teachers, and I saw it as a donation to provide them with appreciation.

Physical Touch

This one is not as common in the workplace but can be especially valuable. This could be a high-five, pat on the back, handshake, or even a hug. Sometimes when someone takes the time to physically show appreciation, it means just a little bit more. It shows connection. Intimacy. Relationship. I know I’ve had my hard days, and sometimes when that one close teacher-friend would give me a hug and tell me it’s ok, it made all the difference in the world! When a teacher’s class made extreme growth and they were excited, a loud high-five shows everyone’s delight! These moments can truly bond a staff.

Find the Time

I challenge you, as you go into a new school year at a new campus, to take the time to truly invest in your team. Prioritize relationships over tasks, and build a community of learning and growing together. At the end of the day, it’s more important to buy-in to people and be better together rather than building a wall of to-do lists and agendas that divides the leader from the staff.

About Ashley Hubner

Ashley Hubner is an Educational Consultant in Sarasota County, Florida. With 14+ years in education, Ashley has served as an elementary school teacher, math interventionist, instructional coach, social studies curriculum lead, virtual coach, and private sector curriculum designer.

Ashley uses professional development, instructional coaching and curriculum design to support teachers and instructional leaders in developing purposeful, intentional learning experiences for children. She is dedicated to impacting student growth by building capacity within teachers and their instructional effectiveness.

Ashley specializes in elementary literacy and mathematics, integrated curriculums, and classroom management utilizing instructional best practices, relationships, and classroom culture.