It’s easy to forget there is more to a school community than teachers, students, principals and parents. Anyone who has any experience with schools knows how dependent we are on the people who work behind the scenes to keep things running effectively and efficiently. For school administrators, it’s especially important to ensure that we recognize the hard work of our support staffs. We also have to give them opportunities to grow as professionals.
There are two reasons to do this. First, it’s important to make sure all pieces of the system work in sync to to deliver the best education to all of our students. Sometimes we lose sight of that due to personality conflicts, misplaced budget priorities and, occasionally, plain old-fashioned human incompetence. Schools are complex systems full of interconnected components that have to be properly maintained. Think of how dirty floors, slow computer systems or cranky main office staff influence the overall performance and morale of a school. If you have good people in all the component positions in your school, they need your backing and support.
The second, and more important, reason is that schools should be setting a strong example for their students on how people should be treated. If anyone in the community is denigrated or marginalized because of a perceived “lower” social status, it sends the implicit message that some people are more important than others. That’s a terrible message to convey to children, especially if they get the idea that adults approve the message.
Here are some thoughts on how you can prevent that from happening:
The best way to marginalize people is to ignore them (like when a parent gives a child the “silent treatment”). The best way to bring people into the fold is to make it a point to literally recognize them when you come into contact. Using their first name, looking them in the eye and asking about their day is a simple, yet profoundly effective, way to send the message that they matter to the overall performance of the school.
Develop their skills
Everybody who has a job can find ways to perform their tasks better. Work with your fellow administrators to create structures that enable everyone to grow in their ability to meet their responsibilities. This might include bringing in some outside training on the school’s main office computer systems, or purchasing equipment that may make it easier to clean a part of the building more efficiently. Regardless of what you do, giving that attention goes a long way in reinforcing to people that they matter to the school.
Solicit their input
I once worked in a school where the Main Office secretary, dubbed “The Oracle” for her deep base of institutional history, was a huge help in making important decisions. You’ll often find that school community members who work in these “smaller” roles have the most insightful and helpful information to share. Make it a point to gather their input, and if they are a help, give credit where credit is due. It would be folly to leave a resource like that untouched.
Hold recognition events
Finally, make it a point to use formal events to recognize them for their hard work. This could be at a school event or perhaps in a small get-together to public and verbally express your appreciation for all that they do. As a very wise principal once told me, “Don’t mess with the secretaries or custodians. They run the school.”
An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, New Jersey Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.