Principals and school leadership teams play an important role in fostering the culture and climate of their schools. Intentionally or not, school leaders indicate their values and priorities through their interactions with staff, students, and families. Modeling by school leaders is therefore a critical part of creating a positive school environment and supporting staff in building SEL skills and mindsets. Principals can “lead from the center” by embodying SEL in their daily interactions.
The strategies below provide ideas for administrators and leadership teams to build relationships and show staff, students, and families they are cared for and appreciated. Suggestions are modified from Chicago Public Schools.
- Check-Ins: Begin all conversations, visits, and meetings with a brief personal check-in. For example, with staff you might ask that they “Share a rose and a thorn of this past week/month” (good/bad). Keep track of what is shared to check-in later; e.g., “Last time we talked you mentioned that your son was ill—how is he feeling?” With families and students, before addressing the issue at hand, take the time to ask how they are doing and listen actively to their answers.
- Staff meetings can begin with a quick whip-around question to share out loud or in small groups for large meetings. For example, “Each person describe your weekend in five words” or “In groups of three, share what percentage of your attention is on this meeting and where the other percentage is focused.”
- Check-in Calendar: Place a staff/administrator name on each day/week of your calendar. On that day, check in with the assigned person to see how they are doing by visiting the classroom, calling, or emailing. Try to limit conversations to good news and personal check-ins; don’t use them to share work reminders. Use the same strategy for students and families, noting students who have recently undergone major changes or life events, or those who have been having challenging interactions with classmates or teachers. Take a few minutes to check in with the student and/or family.
- Verbal Appreciation for Time: Thank administrators/staff/parents for taking the time to meet with you (even if it was ‘mandatory’). Let them know that their time is appreciated.
- Celebration Feedback “Sandwich”: Begin and end feedback conversations and meetings with staff, students, and families by sharing good news or positive comments to celebrate. Make a positive-critical positive-feedback sandwich.
- Birthday Cards: Send paper or virtual birthday cards to administrators/staff.