Growing up, I moved constantly. In one school year, I attended as many as four schools with my longest stint at a single school being my last three years of high school. As a result, I rarely developed solid peer relationships, and my sense of belonging was stifled. My only constant was the teachers who helped me acclimate in each of the schools I attended. Teachers were my rock. They pushed me academically, lifting me up when I had fallen behind because of curricular differences between schools. They provided me with a safe space and personal connections when I felt alone and different. These relationships that were modeled for me were the cornerstone of my educational career. From classroom teacher to school leader, I have found that my leadership philosophy is rooted in building and fostering relationships, leveraging the strengths of my students and faculty, and seeking opportunities for growth in myself and others.
Several years ago, I took the StrengthFinders 2.0 assessment in preparation for a leadership workshop and repeated it a couple of years later as a part of a team building exercise. While a few themes slightly shifted as I grew as a leader, one area, “relationship building,” was a consistent strength. I see this as the key component in every personal and professional success. While this is a natural strength for me, I believe it is also a necessary skill for effective leadership in education. After all, education is all about relationships and connection.
As teachers, we know that forging positive relationships with our students can drive learning and motivation. The same is true when working with adults. By connecting with faculty and parents, I create a community within my school that allows for more effective teaching and learning. By building trusts with both groups, I can create a shared vision and understanding of what the process of learning should look like – beyond grades and traditional notions of intelligence. As a result of this shared vision, the entire community is vested in the progress of the students, the faculty, and the school.
Building relationships allows me to leverage the strengths of my students and faculty. By focusing on their individual strengths, the emphasis is placed on the value their current skill sets and abilities instead of focusing solely on overcoming their weaknesses. This helps not only strengthens relationships but also builds a strong foundation for distributed leadership. By sharing opportunities for leadership, even slow adopters are given the opportunity to leverage their proficiencies to eventually move beyond their comfort zone towards growth.
By identifying and valuing the individual strengths of my constituency, I can foster their growth. The interaction provides an opportunity not only to mentor them but also to reflect on and hone my own skills. Because I invest time in establishing a foundation of trust and honor, my faculty are more readily able to honestly assess their own weaknesses and seek opportunities for growth. They are more apt to value my insight and perspective and be open to constructive feedback. This also models the level of feedback that I expect teachers to give their students.
This model of building relationships, leveraging strengths, and fostering growth is applied to our interactions with our students and parents. The framework creates a community of trust and respect with learners (adults and students) who are willing to take risks to grow and learn.