Today, my teachers were given a compliment that made me both incredibly happy and sad at the same time. You see, it was Picture Day. Picture Day is one of those things that we all have to do, but it can truly wreak havoc in an elementary school student’s need for routine and structure. They get accustomed to knowing what to expect for when, where, and how to be. When you add Picture Day, it can totally disrupt routines, especially if the picture schedule runs behind. Picture Day takes a lot of grit on everyone’s part.
Our day was also affected today by about 40 district leaders, campus administrators, and teacher leaders who were visiting our campus. Typically, my students and teachers are very used to having visitors in and out observing, but this was the first one for the year. I guess a “normal” picture day just didn’t give enough challenge so we raised the demand by adding 40 strangers to the mix on top of an altered schedule, just to really see how the students can handle change.
I do have to say that today we were lucky. No cameras broke. Everyone was on time. The schedule flowed smoothly. Students were amazing demonstrating their learning and even sharing with the adults walking through their classrooms. I am so fortunate to have a fantastic group of students and an incredible staff.
We got amazing feedback from the visitors. But as the photographers got ready to leave, they made this comment, “Your teachers are so respectful in how they speak to your students.” Wow. Well, you need to know that many years ago before I came to Degan, there were some comments to the contrary about this staff. To hear from an outsider, even outside the profession of education, how impressed they were with the staff-student interaction, was a proud moment. But as I thought more, I thought how incredibly sad it was that this photographer, who probably spends a great deal of time in schools witnessing teachers interact with their students, felt we were the exception. You would think this would just be the norm.
As I reflected more, I did think about the stress that shifts in schedules and the unexpected happenings of a school Picture Day can cause. However, as adults, we have to absorb that stress to keep it off our students. Some of our students, especially those who live in poverty, live in chaos on a daily basis. They sense the tensions of adults and react to it. Even more important is the relationships. If we are snapping at our students to deal with our stress about a situation, we are damaging our relationship with that child and limit our ability to have a positive impact on them. If we are going to treat others with respect, and model this to children, we have to show we value them all the time, not just when we have had enough sleep, the schedule and routines are in place, and everything is going our way.
But it goes even further. How do we as campus leaders, create a culture where our staff feels safe and confident, even amidst a great deal of change? That is the true key. We have to make sure everyone knows what to expect.
When staff feels confident that effort, not perfection, is the desired outcome, everyone can exhale. They will function with confidence and not be paralyzed by fear of the unknown. They can become truly comfortable with ambiguity and learn to thrive, knowing that they are valued, no matter what. When the teachers feel safe, they can make students feel safe as well, and then even Picture Day plus 40 strangers walking through classrooms aren’t an issue!