I became Principal of a k-12 school at 25. No Education degree. Little Teaching Experience. I had to bootstrap, work harder than I ever worked at my previous management job.
Being a young Principal helped. Not even a decade out of my own schooling experience, I could see it the kids way. My number one focus- a concerted initiative driven home in all staff meetings- The Kids had to Feel Cared For. More than lesson planning, more than curriculum design, more than events and parent meets, more than assessments even was this goal- Let them feel they are Cared For.
This meant doing small, yet significant things. Or doing things we did earlier. Just better:
1. We reduced the student-load per teacher. Noone at School taught more than a 120 kids. Still a lot, but less than the 200 they were doing earlier.
2. Smiled a lot more. Consciously.
3. Remembered more names.
4. Played more Sport with the kids. Got our families to join in.
5. Empathised. Listened to the students. Trusted them. Made them pitch in official staff meetings. Heard them more often in water-cooler conversations, small advisories, on the stairs at open-houses.
6. Made sure they felt school was Just. No indiscriminate punishments-rules clearly stated and consequences of violation too.
7. Enquired after their health if they didn’t come to school.
8. Celebrated Birthdays. Celebrated Wins.
9. Discussed kids – who needs help, who needs a pat on the back, whose parent is unwell and who did that fantastic performance in assembly – at more regular staff get-togethers. Get-togethers, not meetings.
10. Praised the kids. Things that we may not have praised earlier. A new haircut even.
Then the magic began to happen. Kids started talking. Younger Kids started talking. Slowly, the older ones did too. Our school was flowing with conversations. I still remember a 10 year old student telling me in one of my “Open House” Session with 4th and 5th graders, “I am more interested in School now than I was earlier because I feel that now the I feel wanted here too. The School is interested in me as well.”
As a child or as an adolescent (and indeed through our lives) having someone to care for and care about you is one of the most comforting things- it makes us want to become better because we feel loved and we want to give back by doing well.
So, I say to School 2.0 exponents- embrace the Touchy-Feely Stuff. Let the kids know you are there and that you care.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get batter. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss.
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