Building Relationships Through Celebrations

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One of my goals this year is to be more intentional in building relationships so that I have deeper and more meaningful connections within the school community. Over the summer I thought a lot about how I might create more opportunities for positive connections with students. So often it seems that students only visit the principal when they are “in trouble.” I was wondering how I might begin to change this perception.

In Kim Marshall’s book Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation: How to Work Smart, Build Collaboration, and Close the Achievement Gap, he identifies key areas for principals’ work in a Principal Evaluation Rubric. One of the domains is titled “Discipline and Family Involvement” and it includes “Celebration” as a characteristic with four levels of mastery:

  • Highly Effective: Publicly celebrates kindness, effort, and improvement and builds students’ pride in their school
  • Effective: Praise student achievement and works to build school spirit
  • Improvement Necessary: Praises well-behaved students and good grades
  • Does Not Meet Standards: Rarely praises students and fails to build school spirit

As I reflected on this rubric and thought about how it relates to my work, it made sense that celebrating with students might be a powerful way to build positive relationships. In addition, “celebrations” is a theme this year at the American School of Dubai in honor of the 50th anniversary of our school’s founding. Everything seemed to be pointing in the direction of finding ways to celebrate with students.

kinder-portraitI thought back to the times when students (and sometimes an entire class of students) would come to the office to show off completed projects, bring birthday cupcakes to share, or to present a portrait they had drawn of me. The smiles on their faces and sense of pride they were feeling was so obvious. What a mood-lifter this type of office visit can be for everyone! As I reflected on these visits, my big question was, “How can I encourage more of these positive interactions?”

I came up with the idea of creating a VIP Office Pass. Using a business card template from VistaPrint.com it was easy design a card that I liked and that I hoped students would also like. On the front it says, “VIP OFFICE PASS ______ has great news to share with Mrs. Black!” The pass has a place for the teacher to write in the student’s name, and a place for the teacher to sign it. The back says, “American School of Dubai Elementary School” and has the ASD Core Values. The student can use the pass to visit the office and share their great news, and then they can take it home so that their parents know about their office visit, too.

vip-office-passAs I visited our third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms at the beginning of the year, I shared the VIP Office Pass with students and teachers. I told students that they can ask their teacher for a pass when they have news they would like to share with me, and that their teachers might also suggest times when students might like to use a pass. In a follow-up email to teachers, I asked them to please use the cards to provide students with the opportunity to share their good news with me, especially those students they feel might benefit from a bit of additional attention and recognition.

The response has been exciting and I am so appreciative of the teachers’ support. One student brought in his writing notebook to show me how hard he’s working at building his writing stamina. As I was reading over some of his work I remarked, “Wow, you’ve put so much effort into this piece! How does it feel to be growing your stamina as a writer?” He responded, “Oh wait, Mrs. Black. There’s more,” and he proceeded to flip through three pages of a story he had written. He said, “I have more stamina than last year because I can think about it and focus more now.”

Another student who had experienced some friendship challenges in previous years wanted to tell me that he had done a lot of thinking over the summer. He decided that he wanted to be a leader this year by being kind and thinking more about other students’ feelings, and he wanted me to know that. I wondered how we could build upon this new outlook? When he was offered the opportunity to have a speaking role at our divisional Welcome Back assembly, he literally trembled with anticipation before taking the stage. Afterward, when I asked him how it felt to be in front of the other students and lead part of the assembly, he said that while he was scared at first it sure did feel good afterward!

To say that I am honored and humbled by the interactions I’m having with students is an understatement. I look forward to continuing to learn more about them and creating meaningful connections. Interestingly enough, one student asked if she could share sad news with me if something happened that wasn’t so great. My response? “Absolutely.” I want students to know that I care about them and that I’m here to support them whether it’s to celebrate a success or to help them overcome a challenge.

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