While the success of students is intricately linked to the dedication and expertise of teachers, the pivotal role of administrators in fostering strong, positive relationships cannot be overstated. The heartbeat of effective educational leadership lies in the quality of relationships between administrators and teachers.
In our latest Education Uncharted episode, we had the privilege of speaking with Chris Beals, a seasoned education professional with a diverse career spanning a decade as a classroom teacher and 28 years in administrative roles. Chris currently serves as the project manager at the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA). Throughout our conversation, we discuss a pressing challenge faced by administrators nationwide – how to establish and reinforce robust emotional connections with faculty and students. Chris shared practical insights on building those emotional connections and offered valuable advice for administrators looking to establish or reinforce those strong, positive relationships:
Keep perspective of what life is like inside the classroom.
Starting his career as a teacher himself and being married to a teacher, Chris explains how he always had a close eye on the day-to-day workings of a classroom for 30+ years. This in turn allowed him to be mindful and empathetic in his role as an administrator. Chris teaches us that an action as simple as actively trying to filter any decision or leadership move through the lens of a teacher or the teachers that would be affected by those decisions are impactful in establishing lasting and strong relationships with both faculty and students.
Look for opportunities to be near and in classrooms.
Referencing his work with Dr. Jenni Donohoo and Steven Katz, Chris debunks the myth that it takes years worth of trust to make movement or take a risk. In reality, our brains find it easier to trust rather than mistrust, and it only takes a small amount of trust established for teachers and other educators to take a risk. “And for me, that translated to just really looking for opportunities to be near and in classrooms,” Chris tells us. This can look like a lunchtime visit with a teacher to address an email question or providing usable materials or curriculum that teachers can take with them to their classrooms post-professional development meetings. Chris also mentions that he would always keep a simple T-chart handy to track administrative policies, codes, and community initiatives that were of priority, and during his regular building walks, he would make note of the parallels or learnings he could draw from observing his teachers in action.
“That was a practical strategy for me to just keep that running log of, okay, what are all the content pieces that are coming that we have to make sure we get to and what are the great strategies I'm seeing and where can I find a match that is double duty”
Model “Exquisite Instruction.”
Tying together the above two strategies is the concept of “Exquisite Instruction.” When asked to explain the meaning of the phrase from his recent EdWeek article on our podcast, Chris explains that it as, “when you walk in a classroom and things are just humming, you see students authentically engaged in the learning. You hear good noise. You see the teacher elegantly moving from spot to spot. I think maybe another phrase that I could use that would describe exquisite instruction in my head is knowing what you're doing and why you're doing it at any given moment. And I think that applied to me as a teacher, as a building principal, and as a district leader.”
District leaders especially, according to Chris, have an opportunity to be intentional in the way that they frame and present strategies to their faculty. Rather than listing what is right and wrong, the difference is in a matter of pausing enough to step back and ask, “What are we implementing and why are we implementing this? What is the outcome we’re looking for with the learning audience?” Modeling this approach has a top-down trickle effect and inspires teachers to frame their lessons using the framework.
From maintaining a close perspective on classroom dynamics to actively seeking opportunities to be present in classrooms, Chris underscored the significance of empathy and trust. His emphasis on modeling "Exquisite Instruction" as a district leader adds a layer of intentionality to strategy framing, encouraging administrators to pause, reflect, and ask why. In adopting these strategies, educators and administrators alike can contribute to classrooms where learning hums, students engage authentically, and the purpose of education is not just understood but lived.