We likely all remember those in the organization who made us feel welcomed and included. In our hearts, we all want to belong. While we talk about all the substantial things that leaders need to do, I am certain that some of the most important things that leaders can do, are the little intangibles that make all the larger things fall into place.
One morning recently, I visited a school as it was opening for the morning. Outside, there were several groups of parents, walking their children to school and dropping them off. As they did, parents were gathering and talking and they seemed so at ease and relaxed. Kids were gathering ready for school, laughing and playing in groups big and small. The entrance of the school proudly displayed art which represented the enormously multi-cultural place that this school represents. As I went through the entrance, a teacher greeted me and then asked a parent if they needed any help. I walked up to the counter to check in and the clerical staff greeted me warmly and asked what they could do to help. It was clear to me that this was a place that was warm and caring.
I have no doubt, that this school, it’s warmth and openness, is the result of several layers of leadership where people take care of each other. It’s about the basics – being kind, open, present, and calm. A greeting with a smile goes a long way to make people feel at ease. However, generating these cultures doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, and it takes that type of leadership from the top. The principal matters.
At a recent conference on research, I participated in a session on the importance of a principal in implementation of any program or change. The research was showing how important the principal is and it’s not about their knowledge of curriculum or the change process, it’s about their relational knowledge. Are they visibly supportive of the initiative? Do they listen and build collective understanding? Are they open to contrary views and collaborating with staff and the community? Do they actively help support and build coalitions to allow change to take place? Do they communicate effectively and transparently? All of these things are , in my mind, similar things to how you make a school feel like a warm and caring place for all children. If relationships are critical to success, then the relationship between the principal, the staff and community are paramount. It would be equally true in my mind that the relationship between a teacher, her students and parents, is also paramount. From a sense of belonging the complexity of learning can unfold.
There is a back door to my office. It’s a bit quicker to get up the stairs to work that way however I choose not to use it because I want to go through the front and to get a chance to say hi to people. It’s a conscious decision to try to do one small thing differently. I have no idea if it makes any difference at all, but I do know the name of the people who are our reception. I do say hi to them as I do to anyone else who is there and I hope in turn, it’s but one of the little things that makes a big place seem small. If people feel like they belong, then they are more likely to be comfortable demonstrating their leadership from their own role, whatever that may be.