I started my journey in educational leadership ten years ago when I accepted my first administrative position as a middle school assistant principal. I think there was a time when I believed that my journey really did start there- when I thought that my role as a leader began with that title. It did not.
Twice this week I was lucky enough to spend some time with former students. It was a vivid reminder of something I have known inside for a long time. Some of the most important leadership happening in our schools today is happening in the classroom. It is happening with teachers and paraprofessionals who connect with children every day.
I am fascinated by climate and culture in schools and districts. I think that a positive climate can foster a positive culture that can result in remarkable growth in the people working and learning in schools. As “leaders” we spend time and energy measuring our climate and making plans to improve it. I do think that the “leaders” have the greatest impact on climate. Principals and district leaders make decisions everyday that influence the overall feeling of the building. Culture though is much deeper. Culture is long-term. It is the underlying beliefs that lead to action in a school. Culture is what controls what happens in a classroom when the doors close and the real interactions take place.
Everyday in classrooms across the world teachers are leading culture in big and small ways. When a student walks into the room looking upset, a teacher will ask them “what’s wrong?”. Everyday teachers greet students by name and ask about their world. Every conversation like this builds a positive culture. These interactions have an enduring impact on students. I was reminded of that this week. There is no greater feeling than knowing you had a small part in creating something positive for kids!
Too many times I have heard someone in a school say, “I’m just a teacher.” I bet I said it myself at some point in my teaching career. Just a teacher? Teachers are the single most important leaders in our schools. The climate and culture rises and falls on what happens between a teacher and a student.