Four Ways to Develop Relationships

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 6.12.29 PMThis blog post previously appeared as an article in the Learning Forward PA Late Summer 2015 Newsletter.

As a teacher for fifteen years, an instructional coach, an instructional support teacher, a central office administrator, and now assistant superintendent, my colleagues have often heard me say how much I value relationships. In any organization when we have strong relationships, we can fail together, learn together, and succeed together!

Here are 4 ways to develop relationships with your stakeholders (whether they are students, teachers, parents, leaders, staff members, and/or board members!)

Be visible!  Whether you are a classroom teacher, a building leader, or a district leader, you need to be visible and engage with your team members.  Greet students at the door, walk through your building and wish everyone a good morning, attend evening concerts or activities,  or wave good bye to students as they get on the bus at the end of the day.  Stop in a colleague’s office with a cup of coffee and ask about his/her weekend. When people talk, be present and listen. Avoid the temptation of email or text messages for those moments when you are engaging. Engage with your learners regularly, whether they are teachers in a professional development session or students in a classroom.

Provide stakeholders with a voice! Are your stakeholders comfortable sharing concerns and successes with you? Have you provided them with a forum to do so? As a principal, do you have an informal coffee morning where teachers can drop by for a few minutes? As a classroom teacher, do you have a venue for students to share notes/suggestions/concerns with you? Do you ask students to complete learning interest inventories or multiple intelligence inventories so they can help you understand their interests and how they learn? We need to find the relevance for our stakeholders.

As a team, I along with our district’s superintendent have consciously created informal communication opportunities for diverse stakeholders. We make ourselves available for optional teacher conversations, student advisory groups, and even Community Coffee and Conversation sessions. Create your own venues and really seek to understand.

Social media is another venue for communication and sharing. Consider using a Facebook page or Twitter hashtag to communicate with your stakeholders.  Check out how Salisbury Township School District used #stsdlearns to engage stakeholders by sharing photos of daily classroom activities.

Build Trust!  Whether you are creating an assessment for students or responding to a parent concern about a bus stop, do what you say you will do. Be honest and be fair to your stakeholders. Think about decisions you are making and how they will affect all stakeholders positively and/or negatively. Maintain confidentiality as appropriate, but know when to share information with another professional. Take the time to provide honest positive and constructive feedback professionally; conversely accept the same feedback.

Ask for help when you need it. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and say, “I’m sorry.” Learning from mistakes is as important as celebrating successes and people will respect your honesty.

Another critical component of communication and developing trust is ensuring your body language sends the same message as your voice. If you are busy on email instead of looking at your colleagues/students, you are sending a contradictory message.

When your students, teachers, or other leaders come to you for assistance, be consistent in your interactions. Your stakeholders will know what to expect from you, and you will build more trust.

Recognize and reward successes. Set expectations, support your team members (or students) as they strive for them, and hold them accountable. As a classroom teacher, I learned to provide appropriate positive reinforcement for my students. If you have read any of Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset, you will understand that we also need to celebrate effort (and failures.) As a leader, celebrate the “messy” lesson your teacher just took a risk on, a successful professional development session, a teacher’s and/or student’s inquiry, an effective presentation at a board meeting, creative brainstorming session, etc. Jot hand-written notes, snap a photo and pair it with a positive caption on Facebook/Twitter, create a blog post or newsletter article highlighting the success and/or risk, or just stop by with some positive words.  Create a staff member or student “difference-maker of the week” so everyone can see and learn about each other’s successes. Find opportunities to recognize and reward successes of your stakeholders.

As you develop strong relationships, you will be able to cultivate the culture you desire in your classroom, school, and/or district.  Your first step may be to conduct a climate survey/assessment. How effective is your culture? Are there high expectations for students, parents, teachers, and leaders?

A strong climate with high expectations will help develop rigor and relevance for your staff and students. To learn more about building culture, listen to a podcast recorded by me and my colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss located at http://www.tltalkradio.org.  In our TLTalkRadio podcast – Episode 14, we shared 4 Strategies to Build Culture. I hope you will listen and share a comment about how you develop relationships and build a positive culture in your district.

What other ideas do you have for building relationships with your stakeholders?

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