By Mike Pinto, IPLI Mentor and Principal of James Cole Elementary
As last school year wound down, I found myself, maybe like you did, looking for some solid footing. This was a year of firsts, of highs, lows, ever-changing winds, and uncertainty. While the future looked promising, my typical clear focus on the next was a little more cloudy than usual. I began thinking about myself, my school, my students, and my performance – both in the present and moving forward. When pointed in a general direction, I can typically find a way through even the thickest of jungles. But I was a bit turned around, disoriented, if you will. I kept asking myself, “What is valued?”
You see, there are so many pieces about what we do as educators each day that are valued. Last year also showed us an equal number of elements that we may have thought held value but didn’t in the long run. Sometimes, all the focus on events, activities, and all of the ‘what nots’ that we perform throughout the school year may make us feel better or think they are impactful, but we found that the pandemic didn’t hold as much weight as we had thought.
What do you value? As I sat down with my assistant superintendent for my annual performance review, I asked that question. I was pleased with the response that focused squarely on impacting children and ensuring that each child has at least one champion in the building pulling for them. We talked about what gifts I bring to the table and the unique quality of the present experience that my building offers. Individual differences in school experiences are celebrated in our school corporation due to each elementary school’s vastly unique geographic and socio-economic make-up. We just talked about value and purpose, and it was terrific. It truly was. The silt had settled from the pond. My vision was once again evident.
I then recognized that what I had been asking of someone else, I had not offered to those teachers in my care. So I sat down and penned individual emails to each teacher spelling out quite simply, “What I value about you.” The response was both honest and impactful. I was not alone. There were many looking for which foothold they should step onto next and if the current ground they occupied was of worth or should be changed. I recognized that this conversation needs to occur more frequently and needs to be part of each staff member’s annual evaluation.
Indiana Principal Leadership Institute (IPLI) Leadership Team Mentor Rhonda Roos spoke about “Low Walls” this summer at a mentor training. Low walls are those minimum expectations, non-negotiables, if you will, that we must not only verbalize to our staff, but we must reinforce, model, and live each day as leaders. These “Low Walls” might include things like “You will never scream at a child” or “Greeting children at your door each morning is an expectation.” We often assume these “Low Walls” are understood by all, but they usually are not and thus need to be spoken early and often. I find myself thinking about “Value” in the same light. I plan to begin this school year by talking about “Low Walls.” I also plan to speak about “What I Value” because this value offers guidance. It offers worth. It also is so crucial to healthy and child-focused school culture. I also plan to speak of “Value” during the school year in terms of evaluations. Because every staff member offers something of value, that value is something we as leaders may take for granted as known. But I found last year when I sent my emails that it wasn’t. There is purpose in the sharing, which helps us all feed forward into the future.
What do you value? What is valued about you, your school, and the efforts you offer each day? These are questions I challenge you to ponder as you enter this school year. In the same light, I also challenge you to look up and down your hallways at the individuals leading classrooms, cleaning your floors, answering your phones, and working one-on-one with children and think to yourself, “What do I value about them?” And then tell them. Because the value you see in each individual will be received generously and will help both the individual and your school move forward in a direction that is impactful and purposeful for a child’s education and overall well-being.