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Building Staff Culture: The Importance of Slowing Down

Too often we communicate, make decisions, and act in such a rush. Yes, there are many decisions that can and should be made on the fly but there are also many times where we should take the time to pause, reflect, listen, and contemplate… and the best way to do this is something that we seem to be losing sight of in education (and society)… SLOWING DOWN.

As part of my professional growth plan, I continue to reflect on the importance of building staff culture but as I moved to a different school in August 2018, my goal has shifted to one focused on building a positive culture to one focused on Instructional Leadership. Although I continue to reflect on developing and now maintaining positive staff culture, I am hoping to wrap up some final thoughts in this post and possibly one more. For previous posts on building a positive staff culture, please read:

Slow Down… 2 words that I have repeated to myself over and over again over the past 2+ years as an educator, a formal leader, a husband, and a father. At one time, I was excited at the speed of my learning and communication as I was embracing all things technology and took pride at being a self-proclaimed “connected educator”. However, as I have taken the time to reflect on life in this hyperspeed world of information, communication, and notifications, I have realized that although the connections with people and ideas are much more vast, connections and ideas within my school and personal life have also lost some depth. Instead of reading and reflecting, I was scanning. Instead of talking, I was texting. Instead of resting, I was racing. As my friend Cale Birk once said, I was continually trying to “drink from a firehose”. I needed to change things… I needed to slow down.

By slowing down… I realized that we can do and feel so much more. My friend Carman McKay shared with our staff at James Hill last year about the importance of face to face conversations (or at the least, phone conversations) as this keeps us connected at a deeper level.  Deeper, meaningful relationships are not formed through quick text messages or emails so he shared that he will text but will not use that form of communication to replace face to face. Following these words from Carman, I also read a book called “Digital Minimalism” that included portions that echoed Carman’s thoughts. In a quest to connect with others, I was using social media to trick myself into believing that I was staying in contact and although I was aware of some parts of people’s lives, I was losing touch with closer relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. For me, I realized social media can serve a purpose and it can be a starting point to a conversation but should never replace an actual conversation.

By slowing down… I moved from skimming and scanning things online and started to actually read and reflect and think more deeply. I now read fewer tweets and blog posts but take more time to read books, research articles, and blog posts that made me think deeply about education and life. By reading less, it gave me time to think more. In doing this, I started to also focus more on things that were truly important in education and my life… things that were evidence-based and/or created a noticeable difference. By slowing down, I could read less, think and reflect more, and focus on fewer things more effectively.

By slowing down…  it helped me, as a principal, to move away from being quick to respond (often when emotions were high) to pausing, reflecting, and then responding in a more thoughtful manner. By doing things like taking email off my phone, I found I was less concerned about the speed of my response to a worrisome email and placed more focus on tone and thought in my words. Because I would only respond to email in front of a computer, I didn’t feel so rushed and I was more focused on the task at hand. I often would even pick up the phone (shocking, I know) and call someone back or request a face to face meeting after an email to ensure that we engaged in an actual conversation where there could more of a chance of empathy and understanding.

By slowing down… it has helped with my health and wellness. I feel I am less concerned about “keeping up” with blogs, tweets, and posts and more concerned about having meaningful relationships with those around me. I still struggle to slow down with being in a job that involves many people and a variety of endless tasks but I have realized that we do have way more time to make decisions. The small ones can be made on the fly but when we are supporting people in a building and have to make decisions that have a serious impact on these people, we all need a reminder to slow down and pause before making decisions. This has helped me to seek first to understand and lead better with my heart and mind.

By slowing down… I take less pride in being “busy”.  We are all busy in some way and this is not something we should wear as a ‘badge of honour’. Over the past number of years, my comfort and pride in being busy prevented me from looking around and seeing that others are willing and wanting to help. I often failed to notice the needs, wants, and wellbeing of others. I failed to notice the beauty around me and take the time to enjoy the moments with students, staff, and my friends and family. The simple acts of going for a walk outside, engaging in a real conversation, breathing deeply, and noticing the many amazing things around us have helped make me happier and healthier. By slowing down, I have embraced many more moments and ensured that I stay in that moment longer while trying to avoid that pull to the busy or perceived urgent matter.

My current school, Shortreed Community Elementary, is full of ALL aspects of life. We can get caught up in the speed of trying to quickly solve the many problems our children and families face; however, this can be overwhelming and exhausting. What some staff (at Shortreed and James Hill) have modeled to me is that in order to best support our community, I need to embrace the team, focus, listen, seek help, work through things in a face to face manner, and… slow… down…

By slowing down… we can create stronger and deeper relationships, make more thoughtful decisions, lead healthier lives.  By doing this, we can positively affect staff culture and the wellbeing of our entire organization.

I continue to have to whisper these two words to myself: SLOW DOWN. In a world that seemingly demands us to be faster, I encourage you to remind yourselves to simply slow down.

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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for that important reminder. You are truly a leader we can all learn from.💕👍

  2. Thank you as always for sharing Chris. I have found myself slowing down in regards to my blogging. Although I have many unfinished thoughts and notes, I have learnt that not everything needs to be elaborated upon.

  3. Love this, Pal.

    And hope you are well. I miss “connecting!”

    BTW: I hope you are rooting for the CANES!

    Be well,
    Bill

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