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Five Ways for School Leaders to Find the Positives

My first two years as a school administrator had me charged with high school discipline and attendance. It was an entry level job for school leadership, no doubt, but I was excited for the role regardless. In meeting with my teachers and learning how they felt I could be support and serve them, I discovered they wanted me to be the hammer, ensuring compliance from our students at all times. I completed over 2200 discipline referrals in the first year alone (approximately 1100 students 9-12) with much of it being small issues of non-compliance. We had our fair share of fights in the hallway, one student who brought a gun to school, and lots (LOTS) of truancies and unexcused absences. It didn’t take long before this continual search for negative behaviors began to take its toll on me.

I learned a lot in that role, including the importance of finding the positives in a sea of negative behaviors. When you’re focused on the things people do wrong, you find your vision gets a bit out of alignment. It’s kind of like when I bought my Jeep years ago. Prior to being a jeep guy (#jeeplife), I didn’t notice all the Wranglers and Rubicons rolling down the road. Now, 9 years of jeepdom have me noticing jeeps everywhere I go (and giving the trademark #jeepwave). Our vision is really all about what we are looking for; if I drive around town looking for red cars, I will find a lot of red cars and probably don’t notice all the white cars. The same is true for monitoring behaviors. If you look for violations and negative behaviors, you will find them. If you, however, shift your focus and mindset to look for the positives, the behaviors and attitudes you wish to see from students and adults alike, you’ll find them. To help you find the positive, here are 5 ways to shift your mindset and find joy in the amazing things happening every day.

  1. Good news call of the day: ask your teachers to nominate students for a positive phone call home from the administrators. Teachers can simply email a list of students with a short description of the great things they’ve done to be nominated.
  2. Positive office referrals: Imagine students coming to the office for good behavior! This can be a fun way to recognize your students for living up to the standard of behavior, academic success, or attendance that you’ve established for your campus. The referral can look just like an office referral but when the student sits down, share all the awesome stuff they’ve been caught doing! Encourage staff to write 3-4 positive office referrals each week and watch your culture soar to new heights.
  3. Rock star barbeque: building on the good news call and the positive referrals, invite all students who’ve been nominated to a one time per month lunch time barbeque. Fire up the grill, get those hot dogs and hamburgers cooking, and celebrate those great moments in your school with food (always a favorite)! ProTip: allow students to refer their teachers too! Nothing builds culture like student ownership and voice.
  4. Put time on the calendar to be in classrooms: it can be really easy to get pulled into your office never to return to the outside world. As a school leader, if I started the day in the office I would hardly ever make it out until the day was wrapping up. However, if you can set time aside on your calendar (and hold to it) you can get out into classrooms, be around students and in the learning environment, and inevitably find those positive you’re looking for.
  5. Decide to show up at the front door: when I first started as an AP, I was out looking for kids being naughty from the time I walked in the door in the morning. As I began shifting my mindset, I showed up every day possible at the front door greeting kids, talking to them about their activities, waving and saying hi to parents, greeting staff, and high-fiving (especially on Fridays) to build that positive culture. Everyone wants to be seen, heard, valued, and trusted. Nothing is better to set the tone for your school, and your mindset, than being a positive, smiling face to open the school day.

Have a #RoadToAwesome week


Road to Awesome: The Journey of a Leader is now available. Click here to purchase the autographed copy.

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