These are some important things as leaders we need to ask:
Question #1: What are you reading?
When SLT asks this question, whether to kids or staff, he or she is reinforcing the message that we are all readers. Books are a school’s oxygen, and the more we read and share words, the healthier our school communities are. If reading is not yet a top priority in the school, this question can spark an important conversation and can lead to tangible next steps, like a staff book club or school-wide reading time.
Question #2: I’ve been thinking about _____. What do you think?
Leaders cannot do it alone, nor should they pretend that they can. They need to ask for help and input. Another way to say this is, “I’d appreciate your advice.” Being someone who asks for advice — rather than being the all-knowing leader — shows that a principal is a learner and that he or she values the perspectives and opinions of coworkers. The more varied the roles and positions of the people whose advice is being sought, the better. Consider these two examples:
When the SLT asks a cafeteria staff member, “I’ve been thinking about how to improve the flow of kids as they enter the kitchen to get their food. What do you think?”
The SLT asks a teacher, “I’ve been thinking about how to make sure that we’re getting kids moving without sacrificing learning time. What do you think?”
Question #3: If you were me, what would you change?
This is a variation of the above, but it’s more open-ended. The intention is allowing students and staff to speak freely about that which is most important to them. This is a great lunch-duty question. Sit down with kids in small groups and challenge them with this: “If you were the principal, what would you change in our school?” At first, you will likely hear responses about longer weekends and less homework, but the more you ask, the more you will hear things like, “Why don’t we have a girls’ volleyball team?” and “If I were principal, I would make sure that teachers didn’t yell at kids.” You’ll learn a lot from this question, so only ask it if and when you are truly ready to listen.
While most SLT don’t promote talking in the hallway, it’s also true that the best ones treasure open dialogue and communication. When they ask the right questions and heed the old saying about why we have two ears and one mouth, principals are elevating the conversation — and reminding everyone in their school whose voices matter the most.
Don’t get me wrong the hallway is not the place for open conversation but it is a place to get the conversation started.