PMP363: Building Stronger, Authentic Relationships with Jen Schwanke and Will Parker

This week Will Parker and Jen Schwanke respond to a listener question submitted several months ago but still relevant today for leaders:

“I’ve been a loyal listener of the Principal Matters podcast and value the insights from both William and Jen. As a new principal of a small school with 125 students and 9 teachers, I’m facing a challenge. The staff has developed a ‘silo mentality’ since the pandemic, and it’s been hard to break. Any tips for authentically fostering stronger relationships among staff and creating a unified team culture?”

Key Discussion Points

Jen’s Strategies

1. Team Consultation:

  • Don’t tackle it alone. Assemble a group of teacher leaders and collaborate.
  • Identify the Objective: Identify the root causes of the ‘silo mentality.’
  • Ask Direct Questions: Ask staff if they’re overwhelmed, disconnected, or unfamiliar with colleagues, and how this can be addressed.

2. Social Gatherings:

  • Host casual outings, like a gathering at your home or a park.
  • Set an Agenda: A brief meeting, followed by food and socializing.
  • Incentivize: Give back time by canceling a less-urgent staff meeting.

3. Community Building in Meetings: 

  • Sharing Segment: Don’t be the only one talking at your meetings. Start meetings with someone talking about a colleague.
  • Focus Areas: Share school, home, extracurriculars, or even quirky facts.

4. Leverage Positive Gossip: 

  • End-of-Meeting Highlights: Share positive news or achievements about staff members. 
  • Criteria: Only share information with consent and highlight overlooked successes.

5. Invite Student Involvement: 

  • Cross-Teacher Projects: Encourage project-based learning initiatives across different teachers or teams.
  • Showcase Events: Create daytime events to show off collaborative projects.

Will’s Ideas

1. Intentional Time:

  • Equate the time spent together with the strength of relationships.
  • Scheduled Gatherings: Plan specific times for team activities that are already built into the schedule.
  • Communication: Openly share your heart and vision for a cohesive team.

2. Event-Based Engagement: 

  • Pre-Event Activities: Tailgate parties or staff dinners are a great way to include staff in the life of the school while building cohesion.
  • Sitting Arrangements: Designate areas for staff to sit together at games. Strategize space for them to enjoy time together.
  • Time Bonuses: Sending staff home early when possible, especially those caring for pets, aging parents, or young children.

3. Ask Your Staff to Set Norms: 

  • Valued Practices: Encourage staff to set the commitments everyone can adopt for team meetings and stick to them.

4. Tradition and Culture: 

  •   Traveling Trophies: Employ fun recognitions where teachers and staff recognize each other.

5. Student Participation: 

  •  Meeting Features: Bring students into staff meetings for updates or talent showcases.
  • Friendly Competition: Introduce “Houses” or teams among staff for fun contests.

Let’s wrap this up

We know this time of year can be overwhelming. Engaging your team, however, cannot be a second priority over “just doing school.” The cohesiveness of our teams will reflect in the energy and engagement teachers bring to student learning. 

Listen to the entire episode for even more takeaways. We hope our strategies help you in fostering stronger, more authentic relationships within your school community. What other ideas or suggestions would you add to the list? Thank you again for doing what matters!

Principal Parry’s Pithy Proverbs

Lisa Parry is a K-12 Principal in Arlington, South Dakota, and a professional development speaker and consultant. As a Principal Matters Associate, she also regularly contributes to our newsletter subscribers. You can follow her work at: Enjoy this thoughtful post from Lisa:

What makes a Monday easier?

A sublime Sunday.

Today that meant a

🧡 pumpkin patch.

🧡 cool breeze.

🧡 sunny sky.

🧡 delighted granddaughter.

I’m ready for the week. 🎃

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker
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