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Building Connections, Purpose And Impact:


Building positive, supportive connections and finding common purpose between administrators and teachers is a critical element of thriving campus and district environments that benefit students.  In fact, according to a 2017 research brief from the Learning Policy Institute, administrative support is a key factor in teachers’ decisions to stay or leave a campus… or even the profession itself. 

But in an age when demands on teachers and administrators are growing, and the time to meet those demands is shrinking, finding efficient, effective and genuine ways for administrators to help build and nurture those bonds and community become all the more paramount. 

In the latest episode of Education Uncharted, we chatted about this very subject with Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) Program Manager Chris Beals. With over thirty years in education, and nearly two thirds of his career as a campus and district administrator, Chris has seen first hand the benefits of building those collaborative, supportive communities, as well as the challenges to doing so that have arisen in recent years.  In the episode, Chris shared some of the most effective ways he’s seen of how administrators can build those collaborative, supportive connections with teachers and staff, and offered some practical tips and examples to help strengthen those crucial bonds. 

Empathy, Trust, and Personal Interaction 

Throughout the podcast discussion, Chris emphasized the importance of empathy, trust and face-to-face interactions when it comes to building productive and positive connections. He especially cites these as giving teachers the comfort to feel safe in going outside of the box when it comes to trying new strategies and ideas that help students. “ I believe little, subtle things  build trust over time and create that environment where people are willing and able to take risks,” he said.

He further cites examples as simple as quickly stopping by to see a teacher to answer a question face-to-face instead of just emailing, and ensuring that a professional development session has time built in for teachers to really engage with, query, and work with the learning being presented before deploying it in classrooms. 

”I think that sends a strong message,” he explained. “We’re saying to teachers that ‘we believe in you. We recognize this is a lot, and we’re trying to do that legwork for you to help you be successful. And we’re learning it together.’” 

Visit Classrooms Whenever Possible…Then Share What You See

One of the most time-honored ways for administrators to build connections with teachers is by actually being in the classroom whenever time allows. However, Chris stressed that in his time as an administrator, when he visited classrooms, he also aimed to learn from the teachers he informally observed. 

“I learned some of my best strategies by watching amazing classroom teachers,” he says, explaining that as district administrator, what he saw teachers do in classrooms was often then applied to designing learning around new district board policies. But his observations didn’t stop at just the teaching of content or how to design professional development courses.

“I'm inspired by the educators that I come in contact with on a regular basis that manage to show up every day, that take a breath and model respectful, inclusive, embracing language and thoughts,” he said, explaining that if he had a magic wand, he’d wish to spread that example far and wide. However, he believes that when educators of all stripes are willing to learn from each other, that outcome is entirely possible.  “I think the answers are within us really, “ he says. “It's just a matter of tapping into the space to share and learn those things from one another with one another.”

Authenticity and Intention of Purpose

Part of our conversation with Chris touched on the concept of Exquisite Instruction, the heart of which is to do everything with intention. But what does that actually look like, not only in definition, but in practice? 

Chris explained that it is far more than just looking at a list of right strategies versus wrong strategies and then making choices. Instead, it is more reflective and can be as simple as taking a step back to pause and ask: 

  • What am I doing at this moment? 
  • Why am I choosing to do it? 

When asked for his definition of Exquisite Instruction, he kept it simple. “Being so intentional that you can almost verbalize that for yourself,” he explained. “I think that matters, especially as district leaders because we have so many opportunities to model that and lift that up.” 

Chris also explains that just keeping the intention at the forefront is a powerful tool that educators, administrators and teachers alike, can use to help find and keep their clarity of purpose.  “We (as administrators) have an opportunity to model calm confidence,” he says, giving examples of simple questions for reflection and clarity. ”Let's step back from this moment. What’s going to be remembered 20, 30, 40 years from now? What is it that our community or families most want for their children?” 

The Power of Lifelong Impact

In talking with us, Chris shared a personal story of the power of positive connection and the impact it can have on students, teachers, and administrators alike. 

In the story, he talked about a student in his class when he taught fourth grade. During that school year, the ten-year-old’s grandfather passed, and Chris gave him a sympathy card. He also knew the student was a huge Notre Dame fan, and as Chris had a friend attending the university at that time, arranged to get an autograph from one of the Fighting Irish’s quarterbacks. 

It was two small, subtle things that Chris himself hadn’t thought much about once that student moved on from his classroom. 

Thirty years later, when he was an administrator in another district hiring for a principal, a candidate arrived to interview. It was none other than that fourth-grade Notre Dame fan who had lost his grandfather all those years ago. And that same student, now a career educator himself, mentioned the card and the autograph in his presentation as an example of the impact educators can have. 

The impact Chris himself had. 

When it comes to building positive collaboration and connections that in turn, elevate learning communities and student outcomes, Chris believes that keeping the potential, lifelong impact at the forefront is a key. “I think there's something settling about that for the individual, your school, your district, or your organization,” he says. “I just believe we have an opportunity. I think that impact matters and we don't often know the ripples that it creates in others.”

*Lightly edited for length and clarity.