How do we prepare teachers and kids for an unknown future? As school leaders, we have a responsibility to lead with the future in mind. This requires us to relate, innovate, and invigorate. No longer can school leaders focus on just one of these skills; instead, we must learn to grow, nurture, and cultivate rich learning experiences around these three skills. This blog post will provide practical and immediately implementable strategies for school leaders to use these three skills to prepare students for the days ahead.
We all talk about the importance of relationships when it comes to learning, but do we really lead with this at the forefront of all that we do? My principal coach, Ray Jorgensen, always tells me the “Conversation is the Relationship.” Every conversation we have with teachers, students, or parents builds or dismantles trust, respect, and collaboration! Be intentional in your conversations, even if you are in a hurry, to focus on the person and to express sincere care and interest in what they are sharing.
“As a school leader, the ability to communicate is critical to the effectiveness of your leadership. To communicate in a caring, relational, and positive way is necessary to thrive as a school leader.” (Future Focused Leaders, Ziegler and Ramage).
Check out these tools that I use to build positive relationships:
- Tell Me More – One of my favorite phrases when talking to someone is to say, “Tell me more.” This shows I am interested in what they are saying and it helps me to gather more data.
- Suspend Judgment – As school leaders, we can rush to judgment, begin to resolve the problem in our own mind, or make a quick assessment of the conversation. Instead, suspend judgment and allow the person to self-discover by asking more questions and listening without making a judgment.
- Check for Understanding – When talking to someone, check for understanding by using a simple phrase such as “What I am hearing you say is…”
- Eye Contact – This sounds easy but it can be so challenging sometimes, like when your phone is vibrating in your pocket. Keeping eye contact through a conversation builds trust and shows interest.
We need to design schools that kids want to run to rather than away from! School leaders can quickly innovate three areas of their school without great expense or expertise.
Student Voice/Choice – Empower student voice and choice in your school.
- Put the Students in Charge – Allow students to make decisions for your school much like Winston Sakurai, 2016 Hawaii Principal of the Year for, who had students design and renovate Founder’s Hall in their school. He turned over the design of the renovation to his students and it empowered them to have ownership in their school.
- Student Feedback – I meet with sixteen random students each Friday to hear from students on our school. I always ask the same four questions:
- What does our school do great.
- How can our school improve?
- What do you dream our school can be?
- How can you make our school a better place?
I learn so much about our school and students through these meetings. We have added hot sauce in our cafeteria, paper towels in our restrooms, hosted a spirit week, and made changes to our dress code and attendance procedures as the result of this feedback.
- Student Led – Allow students to lead a PD session for teachers, have students share reflections of their learning at a faculty meeting, or talk about how they learn best. Student Led Conferences are powerful opportunities for students to showcase their achievement and progress during Parent/Teacher conference time.
Innovative Spaces – We need to ensure that every inch of our school is used creatively to engage learners. Here are some quick ways to innovate your learning spaces:
- Green Screen Walls – Buy green screen paint and paint walls throughout the school. This allows students to shoot video and add their own background.
- Marker Paint Walls – Buy marker board paint and use it in your hallways and classrooms to increase student engagement and collaboration.
- Use the Glass – This is one of my favorite things to do. Use the glass in your school by buying glass writing markers. Our school used the large glass windows in our Library to ask students to share one word that best described them. This started a conversation for the entire school.
- Bounce Balls – Kick away the traditional chairs and add some huge exercise bounce balls to the desks. This works great for that fidgety student who needs to be moving while learning.
- Stand Up – Design some stand up desks and spaces for collaboration. My daughter’s teacher actually has a tall rectangle table at the back of the room that students can use to collaborate around. It has become the favorite desk in the room.
Digital Tools – Check out these digital tools to engage learners and to take them to new discoveries.
- Aurasma – This augmented reality app brings print text to life. Lecanto Middle School in Florida used this app to bring their yearbook to life. When you use Aurasma with their yearbook, video overlays the printed text and shows video of band concerts, athletic events, and learning in classrooms.
- Quiver – If you are in elementary, this app is especially for you. Bring student coloring and work to life through this augmented reality app. It’s free, easy to use, and highly engaging. Check it out at
- Tynker – I so love this app! This digital tool teaches coding in a highly engaging way. You can connect Parrot Drones to this app to have flying and coding competitions.
- Discovery VR – This app allows kids to go where they could never go before. With a pair of Google Cardboard bought from Amazon for less than $10.00, students can use their smartphones to go on virtual reality field trips to places like the North Pole, the Egyptian pyramids, and much more.
As school leaders, we need to beckon teachers and staff back to the call of desiring to make a difference in the life of every child. Here are three quick things to focus on when working to invigorate your staff and students.
- Focus on Strengths – What you focus on grows, so focus on the strengths of your students and staff. We spend way too much time trying to improve or overcome weaknesses when we should really be nurturing and celebrating strengths.
- Use We – Be sure to use “We” and not “I” when talking about the achievements and success of your school. Give the credit away to your teachers and students.
- All our kids, no matter what – Remind your faculty and staff that these are “All our kids, no matter what!” Model respecting all kids regardless of their differences, challenges, or shortcomings. It’s time that we remind everyone in the school that every child deserves an adult who cares about them and is their biggest cheerleader.
School leaders need to step up and model the ability to relate, innovate, and invigorate in order for teachers and students to be prepared for the future. This work is not easy, but it is very rewarding and exhilarating as you witness firsthand students empowered to solve today’s real world problems and become designers, creators, publishers, and inventors. The future is more complex and challenging than ever; as a result, it is imperative that we as school leaders act now in becoming Future Focused Leaders. Our kids deserve it!