Leading through the Lens of Love

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Leading through the Lens of Love

Written by: Kirsten Phillips

December 1, 2021

While living a life of gratitude is a daily mission, the month of November offers an intentional time to pause, reflect and acknowledge those that bring joy, love, and perspective in your life. As a service leader, it’s a great time to have a touch point with each staff member in my building. It’s also a moment for me to reflect on my own attitude, daily conversations, and evaluation of my personal mission; just love. Am I still modeling my leadership through the lens of love? Personally, November is a time of deep reflection and emotional connection. This time of year, in retail, is when consumers can be challenging and eager to move quickly. During my 19 years of retail service, I always remember my dad telling me to “always make it right” by the customer. We work for them, our business depends on their happiness and satisfaction in our delivery of customer service, in order for us to maintain productivity. It’s not that different leading a school… Teachers are in high demand as the workforce continues to decline due to the ever-demanding challenges teachers face.  Sometimes, it’s not even the content, tests, or protocols; it’s the balance of school and home. What it takes to be the teacher, interventionist, pd planner, social worker, food provider, mental health professional at school and then the parent, homework helper, spouse, chauffeur, cleaning professional as well as many more duties at home, can weigh anyone down. Our teachers, right now, are the customers in school. At any moment, one of my staff could get to their breaking point and walk away, into another profession, with not nearly the stress and probably more pay. It’s imperative that I “always make it right” for my teachers. As a leader, I am always looking for ideas on how to fill my staffs’ cup with love. I read blogs, troll Twitter feeds and listen to podcasts weekly. Here are a few ways I try to celebrate my staff to help them find their balance, feel their importance, and be the best teacher they can for our kids. There are several ways to do this throughout the school year, and I want to share a few that have been impactful with my staff.

It’s imperative that I “always make it right” for my teachers.

1. Gift of Time

Every holiday season, right before mid-year data is due and winter recess begins, I provide the gift of time. Our office staff typically makes a huge breakfast for the staff. I schedule 2 hours of duty-free time for teachers to do whatever they need to do before winter recess. During this time, the support staff and myself share a movie with popcorn for our students. With Covid, it will look different this year, but it will still be a priority. Just giving them time, which is what I hear constantly, is the biggest show of gratitude I can do, and it’s free!


Teachers holding papers in their hands
Photo Courtesy of Kristen Phillips


2. Shout Outs

We always celebrate our students, but it’s important to give our teachers the accolades they deserve as well. These look different every year. On social media, I share their picture and an opportunity for our stakeholders to give them love. There are hand written notes, staff shout outs that are shared over the announcements, and follow-up messages home. Telling a spouse, sister/brother, mom/dad of your staff how appreciative you are to have them on your staff goes a long way!  

3. Random Acts of Kindness

As a leader, I have the ability to walk in and take over whenever it’s needed.  Some things you can do as a building leader: cover a recess duty, send your teachers out to lunch and cover the extra time for them to actually eat, walk students to/from recess for an early restroom break, check in and listen to what they need in that moment and then fulfill it, ask for supply lists and use your own admin money for your teachers, bring in coffee/donuts for no reason, call a local food truck to set up in your parking lot, or just teach a lesson.  So many ideas to show gratitude throughout the year with RAK but the national RAK day always falls in November, so find resources here.

4. Hide and Seek

Throughout the year, I hide things with donations in them for our teachers. For example, at the beginning of PD a few weeks ago, I had a $25 restaurant gift card. I hid it in the school and started the meeting with, “you have 5 minutes to find a gift card,” and the crowd runs out. The laughs and search are a great reset after a long day, and someone walks away with free dinner! Before spring break, I always hide eggs with notes in them. These are mostly free items that our teachers cash in when they want. Some examples are: free jean coupons, recess coverage, Door Dash lunch, lunch out on the principal, lunch with a friend, tardy pass, etc. One of my favorites is, “Not Today, Phillips.” This is an out for my teachers to have a different day for observations. I borrowed that one from another colleague and offered it in the past but am bringing it back this year. I have an amazing PTO that provides anything I need to support teachers. They have given gift certificates to give away as well as donations. This helps keep my personal spending down, but it does become expensive if you put monetary things in the eggs. Keep it simple and simply offer your time.

teachers at a snack cart
Photo Courtesy of Kristen Phillips

5. The Snack Cart

One of my teachers’ favorites. It’s not just about the cart of snacks but the process in which we interrupt their class to give them a shout out. I’ll never forget the first class I walked into and blew the whistle. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy!  I tell the kids it’s a time out for the teacher, and they have to go out in the hallway. Once there, they see the cart of healthy and not so healthy snacks to choose from. I cover the class while they enjoy an impromptu break, and the smiles tell all!

6. Mindfulness

We started our year off with yoga as a staff.  Once a month, we have PD on SEBW strategies for our teachers. We link it to our students but, more importantly, this is time to provide them strategies for their own mental health. We have gone to a yoga studio for restorative yoga, and that was one of the most connected times I’ve seen from my staff.  It is true when we say Maslow before Bloom, for our staff too! We had a make-it-take-it essential oil station and also provided strategies they can use in their classroom from Dr. Desautel. Instead of a traditional book study, I published a book reflection via podcast for my teachers to listen to instead of reading every week. They have the book but they also can listen to leaders reflect and make connections to Connections Over Compliance. Book reflection can be accessed here. Through the Stamm Koechlein Family Foundation grant, I was able to provide my staff with these essential tools to promote and incorporate SEBW.

minfulness gifts
Photo Courtesy of Kristen Phillips

7. American Education Week

The time to celebrate all your staff.  We have done several things to celebrate our staff, but we make sure to celebrate EVERYONE. Our PTO supplies food throughout the week, massages, and other “gifts” as a tangible thank you. Make sure to use social media to show your gratitude for every person that touches the lives of your students.

teacher dressed up in IU gear
Photo Courtesy of Kristen Phillips

8. March Madness

Just jump in to the basketball season and enjoy March Madness with themed events when the tournament begins. We had the craziest fan day, and this climate booster, right before spring break, was a good touch to relieve stress and provide thanks to our staff. Plus we had donated Amazon gift cards to stock teacher classrooms with supplies.

9. Regulate before you hit send

As a leader, you are constantly ensuring your staff is following protocol and keeping them accountable for so many things. The one thing I promised myself, at the beginning of this leadership journey, is to stay true to myself. As leaders, we can become consumed by outside influences. We are problem solvers from the time we walk in the door, and there is never a day that goes as planned on your calendar. Your flexibility is a perfect chance to show gratitude with your emotions. I have experienced leaders that wear their emotions on their face and allow the climate to shift depending on their mood. It’s this influence that you can control in your building. Your reaction to any circumstance determines the outcome or tone of your building. Leading with love has not always been a popular talking point, but one I am proud to say is true. The best way to show gratitude is to treat everyone you talk to with respect and listen to understand, not respond. The simple task of regulating before having a conversation has been proven to build trust and respect. Difficult conversations can happen out of love and not authority.

10. Just Love

My motto!  As the leader, it is your responsibility to know your staff and their stories. Love is a powerful tool that, if done consistently, reaps rewards much greater than any paycheck or degree.  I can tell you the story of almost all 360 students in my building. Knowing these stories as well as my teachers’ stories, helps build class lists and a climate of peace. As a leader, model this by sharing your story. Transparency is very much appreciated by staff and opens the communication line as well. It took my dad’s cancer journey to instill the gift of the moment. That is all we have, the moment we are living. This month, try to stay in the moment and express your gratitude for the moment and the people that fill your moments. I hope some of these strategies spark more ideas to be shared. What are you doing as a building leader to show an attitude of gratitude? I’d love to hear your ideas and put them to use! Connect with me on Twitter (@Kear734) to share your ideas!   Just Love, Kirsten You can watch Kirsten Phillips talk about how she puts these ideas into practice.



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  • Kirsten Phillips

    Kirsten Phillips is in her 6th year as a building-level principal, for grades pre-k to 4th, with Richmond Community Schools. This year marks her 20th year in education. Through her own personal experiences, she decided quickly to lead with a simple phrase; Just Love. Kirsten has been a classroom teacher, literacy interventionist, instructional coach, and e-learning specialist prior to taking on leadership. She resides in Connersville with her husband and two children. She currently is serving as principal of Charles Elementary.

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