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John Huber


Administrators need to Build Relationships with students Too:  Here are Some Strategies:

As a seasoned school administrator, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative power of building strong relationships with students. The impact of these connections extends far beyond the classroom, shaping the school’s culture and student success. Much has been written and said about the need for teachers to develop relationships with students Too often, however, we ignore the responsibility of administrators to develop meaningful and impactful relationships with students.  In this article, I’ll share my insights on the importance of authentic relationships and provide practical strategies that fellow administrators and prospective leaders can apply in their roles.

Be Yourself and Be Genuine

One of the fundamental pillars of effective relationship-building is authenticity. As administrators, it’s essential to be true to ourselves. Just as we encourage teachers to bring their genuine selves into the classroom, we must do the same in our administrative roles. Authenticity fosters trust and creates an environment where students feel seen, heard, and valued. If you are normally a quiet and reserved person, then that is how you must be with students. If you are the opposite, then that is ho your students should see you.  Any attempt to create another persona around students will instantly be recognized as disingenuous and you will facing an uphill battle.

For instance, I’ve always strived to be myself in my interactions with students, staff, and parents. This means being approachable and relatable, not distant and authoritarian. By embracing your true self, you’ll naturally connect with others on a more profound level.


Prioritize Time with Outstanding Students

In our roles as administrators, we understand the importance of time management and the need to strike a balance between addressing challenges and celebrating successes among our students. One of the impactful programs I established to foster a sense of community and peer recognition within the grade levels I oversaw was the Peer Awards Program and quarterly assemblies. This program encouraged students to nominate themselves or their peers for various categories, such as “best friend” or “funniest in class.” Unlike traditional voting systems, this program relied on nominations, ensuring that anyone nominated received recognition. During quarterly assemblies, the nominees’ names were announced, and they were presented with certificates, creating a positive and inclusive atmosphere that celebrated the unique qualities and contributions of every student in the grade level. This initiative not only reinforced a strong sense of community but also boosted students’ self-esteem and engagement within the school.

The peer awards were one part of a larger program of celebration each quarter. It was multi-faceted and aimed to create a culture of achievement and appreciation. We organized regular awards ceremonies and assemblies, where outstanding students were not only acknowledged but celebrated in front of their peers and teachers. These events were more than just handing out certificates; they were moments of pride, where we highlighted the remarkable achievements, talents, and contributions of our best students.

We went the extra mile to ensure that these students felt truly valued. Alongside certificates, we presented them with personalized awards and tokens of appreciation. These tangible rewards served as constant reminders of their accomplishments and inspired other students to strive for excellence.

We also had students vote on a “Teacher of the Quarter” and the award was presented to the teacher.  In subsequent quarters, students would not vote for a teacher who had already won the award.

Moreover, our program extended beyond formal ceremonies. We encouraged interactions between these outstanding students and their peers. They became mentors, role models, and sources of inspiration, fostering a sense of camaraderie within our school. This approach not only motivated other students to excel but also contributed to a positive and supportive school culture where success was celebrated, and students felt recognized and encouraged on their academic journey.

These assemblies were conducted by the students themselves and facilitated by the “tech crew.” As the administrator, I did a presentation at the beginning of the assembly and provided data from the previous quarter.  I explained various data points such achievement data, GPA data, suspension and attendance data and the associated trends.  Students got a firsthand look at how they were performing as a class, and they often developed an attitude of “we can do better.” After my presentation I turned the assembly. After my presentation I turned the assembly over to the student leaders who gave out the peer awards, teacher of the quarter and other miscellaneous awards.

The big event was the showing of the video from the previous quarter.  Music chosen by the students themselves was used as a backdrop for many pictures and videos.  Students cheered when they saw themselves.  It was the highlight of every quarter, and on most assembly days, we achieved almost perfect attendance.  And if a student was not present on the assembly day, it was not uncommon for him or her to come and aske me if they could come to my office and see the video.

In essence, this program wasn’t just about recognizing high achievers; it was about creating a culture of achievement, camaraderie, and motivation within our school. Administrators can consider developing similar initiatives to inspire and celebrate exceptional students, reinforcing the positive atmosphere that is essential for an effective educational institution.


Foster a Sense of Community

Creating a strong sense of community within the school is vital for administrators. Reflecting on my experience with quarterly assemblies, videos, and peer awards, these initiatives played a significant role in fostering a cohesive school community. As administrators, we can actively participate in and support these endeavors.

Additionally,  I instituted programs like “Huber Bucks” and a school store, offering affordable items that students can “purchase.” These initiatives not only promote positive behavior but also create a sense of belonging among students.


Engage Student Leadership

Empowering student leaders is a powerful way to build relationships and promote a sense of ownership within the school. Much like my AP council and historians, administrators can establish advisory groups or councils consisting of student leaders. Encourage these students to provide input on important decisions, such as school policies and event planning.

The most important thing when creating such groups is that they must be given a task.  Groups who meet for no purpose will eventually fail.  In my case, the historians took pictures and created the video.  The Ap council organized the assemblies including the peer awards. The AP council also discussed other important topics like field trips and helped establish policies for the grade.

Moreover, consider creating opportunities for students to take on responsibilities, such as managing technical aspects during school assemblies, as my tech crew did. Involving students in these roles not only empowers them but also strengthens their connection to the school community.


Showcase Student Achievements

Regularly celebrating student achievements is a practice that administrators should embrace wholeheartedly. During quarterly assemblies, I made it a point to recognize outstanding students in various categories. Administrators can continue this tradition by actively participating in recognition ceremonies and celebrations.

Acknowledge achievements like perfect attendance, honor roll, and other accomplishments that contribute to the positive school climate. This not only motivates students but also reinforces the idea that their efforts are valued and appreciated.

Develop Empathic Listening Skills

Just as teachers are encouraged to practice empathic listening, administrators can benefit from honing this skill in their interactions with students. Empathic listening involves giving students your undivided attention, maintaining eye contact, and providing a safe space for them to express themselves without immediately offering solutions or advice.

When students know they can come to you and be heard without judgment, they are more likely to seek your guidance and support.


Small Talk Matters

Engaging in casual conversations with students is invaluable. Much like the check-in circle I facilitated, administrators can allocate time during the day for small talk with students. These brief interactions, whether in the hallways, at the classroom door, or during informal encounters, provide insight into students’ lives and foster a deeper connection.


Embrace Vulnerability

Don’t hesitate to show vulnerability as an administrator. Sharing personal anecdotes or acknowledging challenges can humanize you and make students feel more comfortable approaching you. By demonstrating that you, too, have faced difficulties and imperfections, you create an environment where students feel understood and supported.


In my practices with implementing these initiatives, we regularly had suspension and attendance rates that were significantly better than other groups.  Building authentic relationships as a school administrator is an ongoing journey. By applying these strategies and embracing the value of connections within the school community, administrators can play a pivotal role in creating a nurturing and positive educational environment. Remember, strong relationships are the foundation upon which successful educational leadership is built.

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The MEN was founded by John Huber in the fall of 2020. It was founded to provide a platform for expert opinion and commentary on current issues that directly or indirectly affect education. All opinions are valued and accepted providing they are expressed in a professional manner. The Maryland Education Network consists of Blogs, Videos, and other interaction among the K-12 community.

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