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. Empowered to shape the culture and climate of your school at every moment, what decision will you make right now that reinforces what you believe is important?
Just over twenty 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 believe should happen every single day.
Now retired, I can recall making my way around campus each morning, afternoon, and evening, and I would see students in the hallway. Maybe they were 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 the school. And when I chose not to greet them then I was just as guilty of not helping build assets within them.
So I changed my practices. I committed to making eye contact with each of them and saying “Good morning”, “How’s it going?”, or “Good afternoon.” It’s not an extensive conversation yet it is acknowledgment. To be honest, most merely smile and echo back the sentiment. Some don’t reply at all and I learned to roll with that. However I am of the firm belief that it matters, and the shy smiles that were offered in return were what made me certain. Thus it became a staple for me for nearly two decades 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. Perhaps you’ll become as well known as this young boy from England during the lockdown in 2020.