3 Tips to Go from a Human Doing to a Human Being

The goal is to create systems that empower other school leaders to ensure high-quality instruction.

The goal is to create systems that empower other school leaders to ensure high-quality instruction.
By Toni Faddis

April 2019, Volume 42, Issue 8

Today’s school principals are expected to be instructional leaders, data analyzers, and school reformers. We must manage school operations and monitor student learning. We lead professional learning communities (PLCs) and participate in IEP meetings. Often, this busyness wears a principal out.

Since we can’t eliminate our daily tasks, and many of us have a difficult time saying “no” when asked to attend afterschool sports events and evening parent education classes, we might consider how to create systems that empower others on our campuses to lead PLC meetings and help ensure high quality instruction for students. But how? Here are three best practices to galvanize the adults on your campus to take ownership in school programs and student learning.

1. Know Your Why

Simon Sinek famously queried people from all professions to identify their purpose; he understands that powerful systems are designed by people who first “know thyself.” Effective leadership begins with showing up as a human being, instead of showing up as a human doing. People want to know who you are as a person: your family, your pets, and your hobbies. They are usually eager to share about safe topics, and as relationships build, they often invite principals to the dimensions of their lives outside of the building walls. People are less concerned with your knowledge base and skill set until you prove that you are a trustworthy individual.

Being trustworthy is a value that we assert is essential, but how do you show it? What are three core values that guide your work as a leader? If the people you work with were asked to describe your character, would they say? Would they say you are results-oriented but have no heart? Would you be characterized a collaborator or a king? Identifying three core values and making it a point to lead explicitly based on them helps people see you as a human being instead of a human doing. This practice visibly demonstrates consistency and intention.

2. Build Relationships

The second best practice centers on relationships. As people begin to see you as a human being, relationships develop or deepen. Relationships are strengthened by common interests but also by intentional listening. While we might be curious about an employee’s family, it works best when your questions don’t sound like a job interview. Instead, ask thoughtful, open-ended questions, and truly listen when they answer. Demonstrate care, but be yourself and be honest. Refrain from outwardly agreeing with an idea that you secretly don’t believe in. Be sensitive and genuine, because people recognize a phony.

The core values you identified above have a starring role in the relationships you are building. If you state that one of your core values is being a culturally responsive individual, do people “feel” this value in your conversations and discussions? Since people are always sizing up your words and your actions, ensuring they match establishes your leadership presence and signals that your behavior is consistent. Relationships move from mechanical to sincere when two “beings” share and synthesize ideas, not complete tasks, toward a common goal.

3. Design Effective Systems

The creation of systems that result in people working toward a common goal is the third best practice. Core values and strong relationships are essential ingredients to designing effective systems where there is buy-in from each member of your team. In schools, systems are composed of human beings who work together to improve student learning and outcomes. When systems are not optimally organized to foster human development and growth, effective leaders bring others to the drawing board to co-develop and implement systems that result in improvements. Using a systems approach, principals can empower teachers and other school employees to be leaders on campus.

Effective principals continually seek to develop leadership talent by illuminating individuals with particular skills and attitudes that might not yet have considered their potential as leaders. Savvy principals use professional influence to design inclusive conversations and PLCs to jointly develop plans to address identified areas of concern. Systems work when people are empowered to make sense of data and help to craft action plans. Shared agreements strategically move the groups forward, and students benefit through improved instruction and cohesive programs.

Human Beings in Education

Since the mountain of tasks principals are required to complete is unlikely to disappear, it is essential to approach tasks using a systems approach. Systems that emphasize human capital are more successful and effective than those that are product-oriented. Leading systems on your school site begins with knowing your why, maintaining authentic relationships, and ensuring small victories that motivate and celebrate your team’s efforts. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team.

Toni Faddis is a principal in the Chula Vista Elementary School District in Chula Vista, California.

Copyright © 2019. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.