School & District Management Opinion

7 Leadership Actions that Support Staff Members

By Learning Forward — September 04, 2014 3 min read
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Stephanie Hirsh

For the past five years, my daughter Leslie has worked in schools, serving first as a classroom teacher and then as an instructional coach. Each year I experience the first day through her eyes. This year she has made a big change. She is in a new school system and will work out of the district office. Her role still involves coaching teachers, but teachers at every grade level and for every subject.

I can see already how she is growing and being challenged in her new role. She recently told me about a conversation she had with her new supervisor, Lisa. At the end of new teacher orientation, Lisa asked Leslie how it went. Leslie responded that it was very good. What she didn’t expect was what came next: Lisa asked her what made it good? Leslie admitted to not being prepared for the question and her need to be thoughtful and deliberate with her answer.

Leslie told me she didn’t feel like Lisa was testing her; rather she said the interaction made her feel as if her new supervisor was genuinely interested in her views. Together they moved the conversation to a discussion of how they improve the experience for others in the future. Leslie has since commented on how much time she spends with her new supervisor. Having spent the last several years in a school where the principal had supervision responsibilities for her as well as all the other teachers, students, and community, she was unaccustomed to having so much time with a supervisor who could give her feedback and help her to grow.

I asked her for examples of what her supervisor was doing to help her feel like she was working in a place that valued professional learning and was supportive of her development. My conversations with Leslie, and with her supervisor Lisa about what she does to ensure her staff members are the best they can be, led to this list of seven key leadership actions for supervisors. Consider how these actions contribute to a culture of learning and continuous improvement in your school, district, or organization this year.

1. Schedule time for regular conversations focused on the individual’s goals, successes, and struggles. Setting aside time sends the message that you are truly interested in others’ work and knowing how you can be most supportive of their success.

2. Be open to providing help even beyond regularly scheduled meeting times. Open-door policies send the message that others’ success is a priority. Make it clear that you do not want to be the reason someone is delayed from making progress.

3. Ask questions that you want answered in a meaningful way. Questions are an opportunity to deepen conversations. Use them for that purpose rather than to acknowledge presence or fill air space.

4. Engage in coaching conversations to promote deeper reflection. Surfacing assumptions helps you to know if everyone is on the same page and where work and support may be required.

5. Begin each interaction with an expectation to learn something. Never assume you know how someone will respond to something.

6. Honor contributions and successes. Take time to recognize people for taking risks, contributing to a project, and for achieving results. A big part of motivation is the knowledge that your work matters.

7. Finally, invest in building personal relationships with your team. Team-building exercises, milestone celebrations, and meal-time conversations contribute to building a culture of trust and respect. Such cultures are foundational to the depth of work required to achieve the outcomes we seek in education.

I appreciate these practices. I hope everyone has an opportunity during the course of a career to work with someone who holds these values and invests in their team members the way Leslie will experience this year.

Stephanie Hirsh Executive Director, Learning Forward

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