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If you’re an educational leader, you may have led (or will lead) hundreds if not thousands of teachers, counselors, librarians, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, registrars, bookkeepers, custodians, maintenance technicians, secretaries, bus drivers, and nurses. You are creating a legacy every day you come to work. You are leaving your mark—an indelible impression upon the educators entrusted to your care. How will your staff remember you? I wonder…
They may not remember your mission statement or your strategic plan.
They may not remember how many diplomas hung on your wall.
They may not remember how many times you were quoted in the paper or how many times someone took your picture.
They may not remember how eloquent you were in faculty meetings or how well you crafted your emails.
They may not remember how well you aligned the curriculum.
They may not remember how thorough you were in your evaluations or that you submitted all your reports on time to the central office or state department.
They may not remember all the professional development workshops you coordinated.
They may not remember how many teams you led or how many committees you chaired.
They may not remember the test scores you touted or the press releases you wrote.
These are all good things, and most effective leaders reflect some if not all of the qualities or behaviors on this list. The fact that your staff may not remember this stuff might bother you. Don’t let it.
There are plenty of things that your staff will remember.
They will remember the time they saw you mopping a spill on the floor when it wasn’t really your job.
They will remember that you listened—that you always had time to listen.
They will remember that you could be silly, that you appreciated practical jokes, and that you never took yourself too seriously.
They will remember that you would ask them about their family members, and they will never forget that time you visited them in the hospital.
They will remember that time you gave them a shout-out. They will remember how good it made them feel.
They will remember that you always had their back.
They will remember that you were always upbeat, even in the face of adversity.
They will remember how much you always encouraged them, and that you were one of their biggest cheerleaders.
They will remember that you never took them for granted.
They will remember that you treated everyone in the organization like they were important—that you valued everyone’s contributions.
They will remember that you didn’t ask anyone to do things that you weren’t willing to do yourself.
They will remember that you always figured out a way to shine the spotlight on someone else.
They will remember that you always seemed to appreciate how challenging their job was.
They will remember that you genuinely cared about all of your colleagues.
They will remember that time you made a bad decision, but you owned up to it.
They will remember that time you supported them in the parent-teacher conference. You don’t remember it. But they do.
They will remember that you always tried to give them the benefit of the doubt.
They will remember that you always knew their family is the most important thing in the world to them. And you allowed them to take care of them without feeling guilty.
They will remember that you always kept the focus on students, and that you never lost your love for kids.
Continue to engage in all those activities that characterize effective school leaders, but remember that you are leaving a legacy that transcends test scores and strategic plans. It’s much more likely that your staff will remember you for all the little things. You are their leader, and you encourage them, support them, and inspire them. They will remember you because you make a difference—and you know they make a difference too!
Danny Steele has served as the principal of Thompson Sixth Grade Center in Alabaster, AL, for the past five years, where his passion has been building a school culture that values connections with kids, fosters collaboration among teachers, and focuses on raising student achievement. In the fall of 2019, he will be an assistant professor of instructional leadership at the University of Montevallo. In 2005 Steele was recognized as Alabama’s Assistant Principal of the Year, and in 2016 he was named Alabama’s Secondary Principal of the Year. He has written two books with Todd Whitaker: Essential Truths for Teachers and Essential Truths for Principals. Follow him on Twitter (@SteeleThoughts) and check out his blog, Steele Thoughts.