My Neighbor Letter. Building Relationships.

We all share so much with our PLN and learn an equal if not great amount from our work together.  This week I was recounting a few to do’s to a small but mighty group on Voxer and their responses inspired this post.  Thanks #strataproblems, you make me a better principal.

It’s pretty simple.  I write a letter to our school neighbors at the end of summer.  It was my second year as a principal when I decided to start this annual tradition.  If you live near an elementary school, you know it can be a blessing and a burden.  Traffic, bells, basketball courts to play on, fields to play ball, and more traffic.  I wanted to open a conversation and give thanks.  Our neighbors are our allies, keeping an eye on the campus, looking out for the space and even our students as they come and go.

I didn’t hear back from many neighbors but the ones who did engage were lovely, supportive and appreciative.  When I moved school sites last year, the letter didn’t go out.  No good excuses, just a fact.  So I’m back in the saddle this year.  It’s ready for mailing.

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One question that’s come up is addresses.  Two ways I’ve done that: Zillow and Google Maps.  Every school site is different and what defines neighbor really depends on how wide the impact of campus activity is for you.  This year I’ve included a nearby church whereas at my former school, the entire mailing list was residential.  My colleague, Amy Fadeji, wondered about her school as it is quite rural with few homes nearby.  I think a neighbor letter is even more important in this instance.  You have fewer potential stewards of the school so best to get them all engaged and understanding their value to the campus and community.  I say, Go for it!

Here are two samples of my letter.  You’re welcome to grab whatever works for you and your school community!  Building relationships, one neighbor at a time.

letter to neighbors August 2016 – Google Docs

letter to neighbors August 2012 – Google Docs

Do they like me? Another reflection.

Warning: Very stream of consciousness today.  No editing; I just need to get it out.  If I edit, I’ll never hit Publish.

It’s pretty silly.  And not in any of the readings about school leadership.  But doesn’t everyone want acceptance?  To be liked?  By students.  By parents.  By staff.

And all through the year, as I hit bumps in the road, corrected systems of operation, developed relationships, pushed us to consider our values and dreams for students, I wondered, Do they even like me?

Ultimately the work needs to be done, and I love it.  And focusing on what’s best for students helps.  I’ve got that down.  But as human beings, we crave camaraderie and fellowship.  Elementary principal can be a lonely job.  So the question would come up.  And some days I’d tell myself it didn’t matter and I didn’t care.  Not true.

There was some weird juju about my office.  Staff would come to the door to speak with me but wouldn’t cross the threshold.  Again and again it would occur.  Do I need to invite you in?  Is there some negative connotation with being seen in my office?  What was the pattern here before me that keeps them at the carpet’s edge?

Education is such heart work.  My hubby’s job isn’t anywhere near the field of education.  And it’s very difficult for him to understand what I do.  I almost had him understanding teaching after fourteen years.  Almost.  And now as site leader, a lot of what I do is even hard for him to grasp.  He leaves his work at work.  We run into my work everywhere we go.  Everywhere.

One morning in early May I had a big discovery when talking with my mentor.  Does the staff know I’m committed to our school?  Do they know I’ve made my adjustments, and I’m not looking to leave?  Remember, we didn’t choose each other.  Transfer.  Bam!  Here’s your new principal.  So this year has almost gone by, many bumps, many triumphs.  I needed to share my intentions.  My settledness.

So I did.  Second to last staff meeting.  After acknowledgements were shared.  “I want to share with you that I feel very settled here at Valley Vista.  It’s something that I couldn’t have said a few months ago and I want you all to hear me just as I’ve come to realize it myself.  I’m not planning on going anywhere.  I am enjoying my work here, I love coming to work everyday, our community is wonderful and I believe we have some amazing work to do together.”  Awkward pause.  A few teary eyes around the table.  Did I feel a collective sigh from the group?  Perhaps my imagination.  But it felt good to say it out loud.

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New VV Logo Sticker! It’s a beautiful tree full of our values for student learning.

I needed to consider my Do they like me? question from a different angle.  Staff is wondering the same thing: Does she like us?  Will she stay?  Are we going to go through another change?  I’m sure a few of them are indifferent or perhaps wish I’d take a hike.  But the vast majority are appreciative of the work we’ve done thus far, my availability and approachability.  Students are awesome, the most flexible of all.  Parents have shared positive feedback as well.  But teachers and support staff keep the ship afloat.  WE keep the ship afloat.

So now to rejuvenate and recharge.  August is around the corner!