In my post, “4 Non-Negotiables for Schools“, I wrote that the first one was the most important:
1. They are a welcoming and warm environment. As someone who goes into schools often, I can get a feeling of the culture within a few minutes. Whether it is talking to the secretary, or seeing what is on the walls when I walk into the building, the culture permeates through all pores of the building. In my own experience as a student, one of my favourite people in school was the custodian. He went out of his way every day to talk to the students, learn about them, and have a good relationship. Every adult makes every child feel important, whether it is making connections with them during supervision, or acknowledging them as you pass them in the hallway. I believe this starts with the principal, but it is something that should be expected from all staff. Learn names, make kids feel welcome and valued, and create a space where students want to be. Without this, the other factors don’t matter much.
After I wrote that, I saw this great story, “Elementary School Janitor Leaves Cute Messages In the Carpet Overnight“, which is exactly what the title says it is. Here is a snippet from the story:
A dedicated Red Sox fan, Ron was inspired to try his hand at carpet artwork after observing the lines in baseball field grass. He calls the carpet his “mini Fenway Park.”
Assistant principal Dan Mitchell told ABC News that Ron’s actions help the students understand the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating a good learning environment.
“His shift is when the kids are gone, so oftentimes they lack that connection between the night staff and the students here in the day,” said Mitchell. “It really drives home the point that there are so many people that come in here after you’re gone and they work so hard to make a safe, comfortable, and happy place for you to learn. He’s an employee of the school, but he’s a stranger to the kids so to take that extra time with these small gestures really drives home that personal connection.”
I loved not only the story about the janitor, but also what the Assistant Principal said about the importance of the “behind-the-scenes” work of all to make the school “a safe, comfortable, and happy place for you (the students) to learn”.
Although this is probably not in the “job description”, I think of Barry Schwartz Ted Talk on “Using Our Practical Wisdom”. In it, he says the following:
Dealing with other people demands a kind of flexibility that no set of rules can encompass. Wise people know when and how to bend the rules. Wise people know how to improvise. The way my co-author , Ken, and I talk about it, they are kind of like jazz musicians. The rules are like the notes on the page, and that gets you started, but then you dance around the notes on the page, coming up with just the right combination for this particular moment with this particular set of fellow players. So for Aristotle, the kind of rule-bending, rule exception-finding and improvisation that you see in skilled craftsmen is exactly what you need to be a skilled moral craftsman. And in interactions with people, almost all the time, it is this kind of flexibility that is required. A wise person knows when to bend the rules. A wise person knows when to improvise. And most important, a wise person does this improvising and rule-bending in the service of the right aims.
Doing your “job” is important, but I would always take someone that goes above and beyond “in the service of the right aims“. It is important to recognize that all of these “small things” are what builds culture, and without a strong and positive culture, powerful learning is less likely to happen.