Prioritizing Student Connection: Strategies for School Administrators

School leaders take on various roles throughout the day. They serve as morning greeters, instructional leaders, transportation coordinators, food service supporters, and even substitute teachers. Regardless of the age group they lead, administrators are constantly pulled in different directions.

Given the numerous responsibilities and tasks assigned to principals on a daily basis, it can be challenging to prioritize meaningful and proactive student engagement. However, it is essential to make regular and intentional connections with students. Here are a few ideas to help you achieve this:

Manage Your Time Intentionally

If you don’t set your schedule, your schedule will end up controlling you. Many leaders find themselves stuck in their office instead of spending time with their students. Thus, it is crucial to prioritize connection time by scheduling it on your calendar and holding yourself accountable.

Finding time to connect with students in creative ways may require planning and strategizing. One effective strategy is to identify an “Ideal Week” and allocate specific times for greeting students, checking emails, having meetings, and managing social media. By blocking time in advance, you can ensure that these tasks are accomplished during the day rather than being left for nights and weekends.

As a principal at Woodson Kindergarten Center, I personally scheduled bus arrival and dismissal times on my calendar every week. I made it a point to be outside greeting students at least three days a week, no matter the weather conditions. In my current role as a high school leader, I take Fridays as an opportunity to dance and give high fives to teenagers while wearing my jammy pack—a combination of a Bluetooth speaker and a functional fanny pack. Their reactions are always amusing and this nonacademic connection has long-lasting effects.

Setting up your office in the halls during class periods is another way to connect with students while getting work done. During my time as a middle school leader, I utilized a standing desk on wheels and positioned myself in different areas to engage with students, help them get to class, and catch up with staff during hall duty. During passing time, my focus was solely on the students, and once they entered their classrooms, I switched gears and attended to administrative tasks on my laptop.

As a principal supporting online learners, I have had to find new ways to connect with students whom I never see in the halls. Aside from utilizing platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and email, I have started using Along.org to record questions and receive direct responses from students. This allows me to learn more about their experiences as online learners, as well as their areas of pride and focus. Scheduling weekly time to create and review these submissions has become a highlight of my week and a valuable avenue for individual student engagement.

Embrace Creative Connections

Several years ago, the kindergarten center partnered with the Search Institute to create a video called “How to Show Kids You Care.” This video showcased numerous ways to connect with students, such as attending school and community events, participating in gym activities like volleyball, and reading in the classroom. Connecting with students becomes effortless when you incorporate your own interests and passions.

As a former music therapist and passionate drummer, I auditioned to play with the middle school pep band, marching band, and concert band. Students were always surprised to discover that their principal not only had hidden talents but also had a sense of rhythm. Additionally, as someone who still enjoys playing the drums, having dedicated time during the day to engage in this personal passion was an unexpected bonus.

To make this strategy work, consider giving your administrative assistant full access to your schedule. This will enable them to schedule your attendance at various school activities such as Math League, musical concerts, sporting events, and plays. By having someone manage your personal and professional commitments, you can focus on building connections while ensuring you have time to breathe.

This also provides you with an excellent opportunity to capture photos and videos of students excelling inside and outside of school. These visuals can be shared with your school board, parent newsletters, and social media platforms to showcase the achievements of your students.

Show Genuine Gratitude

When mapping out your ideal week, be sure to allocate an hour for gratitude. This could involve making positive phone calls to parents, writing notes of appreciation to families, or sharing newspaper clippings featuring former and current students who have been recognized in the local paper.

By devoting time to practicing gratitude, you create space to refocus on your purpose, foster a positive community, and establish meaningful connections with your students. While the work may be challenging, expressing gratitude goes a long way for both you and your students. It can provide you with increased feelings of optimism, joy, and hopefulness. Therefore, as you interact with students, acknowledge their accomplishments in extracurricular activities, or celebrate their academic successes, remember that these actions contribute to creating a positive culture and also support your own mental well-being.