The leadership capacity necessary of today’s school and educational administrators is overwhelming, to say the least. The ever-expanding levels of knowledge, skills, responsibilities, bureaucracy, oversight and stakeholder input is increasing at a frightening rate. And through all of the muck and mire that often accompanies the position, the bottom-line remains that the principal must serve as the instructional and lead learner on their campus. A bottom-line that also acknowledges the impossibility of being all knowing and doing…an understanding that the sheer capacity necessary to serve the community with a high level of effectiveness requires the creation and delegation of leadership responsibility at all levels of the building and organization.
Which is why, as a principal, I was a firm proponent of and believer in Professional Learning Communities (PLC), meshed with Pyramid Response to Intervention (PRTI). Two processes that engage and increase the instructional and leadership capacity of all teachers on the campus. PLCs and PRTI provided the format and structures that not only attend to the learning needs of our students, but energize the adult learning. Not to mention the positive cultural benefits that can be derived from engaging in the work. PLCs and PRTI made us dig in and determine what it was that we wanted all students to learn and how we would respond when they didn’t learn. It effectively ramped up the adult learning and leadership capacity at all levels of the school building.
Now, having the luxury of reflecting back on how our PLC and PRTI structures and supports created increased capacity across our campus…I have come to the realization for all the benefits, there might have been a missing piece to the puzzle. A piece that has nothing and everything to do with instruction and learning in our classrooms and schools…
The missing piece, which has been made painfully obvious through the majority of issues, concerns, and complaints that cross the planes of our office doors each day, seldom focuses on instruction or our instructional program. Rather, the main culprit revolves around issues of ‘relationships’.
Very often, large segments of an educational leaders day is spent solving relational issues of every kind…from student to student, student to teacher, teacher to teacher, teacher to administrator…not to mention other relational issues involving other staff, parents, stakeholders and community members. Relational issues that are often time heavy and remove the principal from the main thing of the main thing…serving as the instructional and lead learner on their campus.
And yet, we do very little in our schools to provide the emotional and social learning and supports necessary for improved relations and relationships…even though we acknowledge these skills can be taught and enhanced at any age.
You might say we need a “Response to Relationships” plan in our schools…
We have structures to determine what students need to learn. We have interventions to address those students who don’t learn it. We have acceleration structures for those students who already know it.
And yet, we put very little supports and interventions in place to address what studies say students and parents consider the most important piece in the schooling puzzle… relationships.
A “Response to Relationships” support could be viewed through the lens of a four-square grid that envelops the main relationships that are part of the functions and processes of school life; students, parents, staff, and community. A “Response to Relationships” plan will allow school leaders to build relational capital with each of these groups, improving the overall culture and well-being of the school. As follows:
- Square #1: Students
- Square #2: Staff
- Square #3: Parents
- Square #4: Community
Approaching social and emotional learning in a systematic way in our schools will not only improve the culture and build relational capital, it will free up more time to focus on the main thing of the main thing…student learning.
The more we invest in “Response to Relationships” across our schools and districts, the less time we spend fixing those relational issues that become obstacles to creating a positive learning environment, for our students, staff, and parents. And the more time we can spend focused on enhancing our ability to serve our community as an effective learning community.
We have become ever more efficient and effective at attending to the instructional and professional development needs of our students and teachers. Our schools and districts provide a wide variety of services, trainings, and events that incorporate and include parents and the community. Why not set forth a plan for increasing the relational capital that will allow us to be more effective in all of these arenas, in our schools and across our districts.
“Response to Relationships” is aimed at systematically improving the relations and emotional intelligence of everyone in the system. It can only pay off in improving the school culture and overall function from our classrooms to our district office. It serves as a win-win for all stakeholders.
(The previous piece focuses on an topic for which I am very passionate about and working towards building and writing upon beyond this blog post status)