The tone the principal sets for the entire building is a topic that I have spoken about, written about and practiced extensively. One might even say that I am obsessed with this topic. How the day starts for students simply matters and it is the job of the principal to ensure that the entire school is ready for learning each and every morning.
I have visited a plethora of school campuses while wearing my consultant’s hat and have observed on numerous occasions students entering a school and proceeding to a cafeteria, gymnasium or a classroom. On the surface, this is fine and perfectly normal. But I always want to go beneath the surface toward identifying the root cause of a given concern, issue, problem, etc. In most of the schools that I visit, trauma is an ongoing reality for far too many of the students who are enrolled there. These students have either witnessed or experienced realities that most of their teachers could never endure if they were asked to trade places with their students for as little as ten minutes. There are consequently far too many children arriving to school in the morning with so little hope. They find it difficult to make the correlation between hard work and effort today, and success in their adult lives later on. Their out-of-school challenges can be so overwhelming that they find it difficult to even have a vision for what their adult lives might look like. But each and every day, they must report to school, ready to learn.
There are so many safety nets that need to be put in place for such a large number of students in any given school which is beyond the scope of this essay. Here, I want to focus on how the tone is being set at their arrival everyday. As a consultant, as that youngster is arriving in the morning, I pay strict attention to what the arrival looks like….the dynamics of the arrival. I want to see how the tone is being set for the students as they are arriving in the morning. I therefore want to see the principal outside of the building warmly greeting them all. I’m looking for that sincere welcome as they are walking into the building or milling about on the campus before entering. I’m looking for those light conversations between the principal and students when needed. I’m looking for that handshake or fist bump or high five (or even a hug when appropriate). I’m looking for that warmth in the morning FROM THE LEADER. This time of the morning is invaluable for the leadership toward setting a tone while favorably impacting the overall climate and culture of the school. And of course, if the school is a very large school where students enter multiple doors, then I am always looking for the other members of the administrative team to participate in the greeting of students at their respective entrances. This is not a time for reading email or other administrative chores. When students are arriving to school, the only place for the principal to be is outside welcoming them. I am fully aware that some principals even greet their students as they exit the school bus. I welcome this practice as well.
Once the students are in the building and settled into their classrooms and homerooms, I have another component of the early morning that I pay strict attention to relative to the principal setting a tone for learning – the principal’s morning message. Most schools have some sort of morning routine which include the student body and staff reciting the pledge of allegiance, the school’s motto, mission and vision, birthday shout-outs, and school news and announcements. These are vitally important. As it relates to setting a tone for learning however, I’m waiting for the principal’s role in the morning announcements. I want to hear the principal’s morning message. What will the principal say today to capture the attention of the students and particularly the ones who need it most? Again, there are students sitting in classrooms who justifiably do not see the correlation between school today and success later on. That correlation has to made clear to all and it starts with the principal’s message toward setting the tone each and every morning. The principal must strive to inform, inspire and empower the entire student body daily. In some schools, this occurs as a morning convocation in the gym or auditorium and in others, it is over the intercom. Either one is fine. It’s just imperative that it is done. This is not a time to scold, complain, criticize or go over rules and consequences however. There is ample time for that when needed. The morning message is a time to uplift..to give hope…to spark the imagination and to launch the day on a very positive note.
Lastly, the principal must keep in mind that his / her message will only matter and be received and embraced when he / she has credibility in the eyes of the students. Credibility must be earned. It doesn’t come with the title. It is earned by being the authentic, sincere, student-centered leader the students need their principal to be. Anything less and the students will certainly detect it and consequently, the morning greeting and message will all be for naught.
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