As you leave your office and head down the main hallway, a laundry list of thoughts crosses your mind. The parent conference you just left, the teacher you need to see now, the district deadline that is quickly approaching, and the big basketball game tonight versus your rival. All of this consumes your mind and then you see a young man walking down the same hallway toward you. He looks to be on his way somewhere, he has a pass in his hand, and he is looking down. You have a decision to make – one that I think is so crucial for any adult on campus. And as the principal, I feel it is critical when trying to shape the culture and climate of my school. So what decision will you make right now that reinforces what you believe is important?
Fifteen years ago, I was finishing my first semester in grad school on my way to Principal certification. Sitting in a training with my cohort, I was introduced to the idea of 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents. The Search Institute had sent team members to speak with us about these different assets and how they can influence the possible outcomes for young people in middle school or high school. And since those were the only levels I had taught, and thus likely to be the levels at which I served as a campus leader, I was definitely interested. As the speaker took us through research and findings, I remember hoping that he would offer some examples. He finally did and I can say that one example in particular has remained a hallmark of what I do every single day.
As I make my way around campus each morning, afternoon, and evening, I see students in the hallway. Maybe they are returning from their locker, visiting their counselor, completing an errand, or merely running late. And what I realized was that often adults walk toward them, heads down, and pass them without saying a word. I mean, I understand, I guess, as we are busy. We have things to do. However, I am of the belief that when we choose (and it is a decision we make) to NOT speak to that young person, then we are missing a chance to acknowledge that they exist and that they matter. Sadly, for some, these same young people get that feedback (or lack thereof) every day at home, on the bus, in the car, and throughout school. And when I choose not to greet them then I am just as guilty of not helping build assets within them.
So I changed my practices. I make eye contact with each of them and say “Good morning”, “How’s it going?”, or “Good afternoon.” It’s not an extensive conversation yet it is acknowledgement. To be honest, most merely smile and echo back the sentiment. Some don’t reply at all and I roll with that. However I am of the firm belief that it matters, and the shy smiles that are offered in return are what make me certain. Thus it has been a staple for me for more than a dozen years as a campus leader.
So when you are cruising down the hallway tomorrow, with lots on your mind, don’t miss the opportunity to remind a young person that they are significant, that they are worth your time, and that you share this world with them. And then let me know what you start to notice as this becomes routine.