Building Your Best Staff

Robin Jones, Principal, Chief Ivan Blunka School

Leadership through unity involves the shared commitment of a united team of staff members inspired by the vision and practice of their leader. The foundation of my leadership vision has always been to assemble a dynamic team through the development of quality relationships. In my professional practice, I have found that in order to build your very best staff you have to blend high expectations with an unwavering belief in each individual’s talents and abilities. I recognize the importance of building relationships, prioritizing time for collaboration, and being intentional about showing appreciation for staff. I have learned these are prerequisites for providing an excellent educational experience for our students.

Some may think I have taken relationship building to the extreme, but I fiercely believe that in order to build your best staff you have to develop a network of incredibly strong relationships. I deliberately prioritize time to get to know my staff members. I want to know each’s strengths, weaknesses, personality, sense of humor, interests, teaching style, food preferences, background, and even the names of children and pets. I invest in their lives, because that provides me with a clear understanding of how people’s strengths can be put to use to maximize their effectiveness in the classroom and what I can do to support them in our school. By getting to know individuals, I can help them develop strong support systems, collaborative environments, and partnerships with colleagues. Intentionally building trust and rapport establishes a strong foundation for guiding staff in improving their professional practice. No staff member at our site endeavors or excels alone. We are a bonded staff that functions as a team to provide our students with every possible opportunity to be successful.

Building your best staff takes time—a commodity made highly valuable by its scarcity in the realm of education. If something in your school is truly a priority, you have to make time for it. As a school leader, you also have to make sure your staff has the time they need to collaborate on priorities. In addition to ensuring staff has adequate time for learning, leaders must show staff how their efforts will ultimately benefit the students. Only when a staff member genuinely understands why an initiative is important will she or he willingly invest time in it. When your best staff understands why you are promoting an initiative and chooses to commit to it, everyone’s work is given meaning and all share in the success. So make sure that everything you are promoting as a leader has purpose and produces the most productive practices.

Leaders build their very best staff by intentionally celebrating successes and promoting appreciation. Your best staff wants to feel comfortable to take risks and explore the impossible in collaborative environments while also feeling confident that their leader supports their ideas and will help remove any roadblocks. No better example of leadership through unity exists than publicly acknowledging the accomplishments and efforts of your staff while allowing them the opportunity to share their best practices with each other. Though often in thankless positions, leaders should, as much as possible, show appreciation for the educators in their organization in big and small ways to bring out the absolute best in their staff.

I have been serving as an administrator at my current school in rural Alaska for eight years and in my district for 10. Like most, my first two years as an administrator were extremely difficult.  I can remember feeling like every day was an uphill battle and that my leadership was ineffective. I was fortunate to have been surrounded and led by consistent leaders at the district office level who encouraged me, sometimes daily, to persevere. They assured me that the leadership I was providing was making a difference even if I could not recognize the impact. They not only offered me the guidance and support I needed to meet the challenges that arose, but made me feel I was part of a unified leadership team that could get through anything together. Each of my mentors hoped that I would stay at my school long enough to someday see the fruits of my labor. It may have taken longer than any of us had anticipated, but in this, my eighth year as an administrator, I finally have a staff that is 100% committed to our school, with the momentum and dedication needed to do the most amazing work. I am in awe of the educational experience my staff is able to provide for our students and what they are accomplishing together. I will commit to building strong relationships, prioritizing time for collaboration, and showing appreciation at every turn, so we can continue to build our very best staff!