How to Inspire and Connect with Your Staff

Putting Teachers First: How to Inspire, Motivate, and Connect with Your Staff
By Brad Johnson
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Brad Latzke

When I moved into a leadership position long ago, I made a conscious decision to push all my leadership chips to the center of the table and bet on relationships.

Brad Johnson’s book, Putting Teachers First: How to Inspire, Motivate, and Connect with Your Staff, takes a similar view and brings to life a myriad of ways to make it happen. Time and time again Johnson returns to his central theme that a positive relationship between leader and teacher is essential in successful schools.

In a recent tweet Johnson declared: “The principal’s job is NOT to put students first. To do so is to micromanage and negate the authority of Teachers. The principal’s job is Putting Teachers First, knowing that in so doing, Teachers will always put students first.”

Have to admit, I questioned this premise at the beginning of the book. The general belief is all educators put students first. The tweet helped flex my thinking enough to set the prevailing sentiment aside and lean into his message.

As I read on, page by page I found myself nodding and scribbling notes or underlining phrases and sentences that resonated deeply with my beliefs and practices. He’s got lots of good stuff for school leaders.

Interviews with other leaders

Johnson interviewed a variety of different leadership types and effectively weaves their stories and comments into the narrative. He provides an extensive reference section for follow-up. Each chapter has one or more “Pause For Reflection” questions, which encourages the reader to self-reflect in the moment. And I do like the summary “Key Points To Remember” at the conclusion of each chapter. The book has a super nice flow to it.

My key takeaways:

  • Caring, supportive leadership is a significant motivational factor for teacher satisfaction.
  • Leaders are about teachers as people first, educators second. Meet each one at beginning of year.
  • Focus on teacher strengths, not weaknesses.
  • Servant leadership is the most effective, enduring style.
  • Being right as the leader is less important than being empathetic. Watch out for bullying tendencies.
  • Solicit and listen to feedback on how you are doing.
  • Celebrate successes, big and small!

Although not directly referenced in the book, some underlying questions for leaders emerged in my thinking:

  • Why have I chosen leadership?
  • Who am I as a leader?
  • How do I find out?

In order to maximize your leadership potential, there are many leadership inventories available to address the questions above and help leaders sort through own personal IQ and EQ styles. Johnson devotes an entire chapter with strategies and suggestions to improve leaders’ emotional intelligence.

Don’t ignore but be sure to inspire

After finishing the book, I continue to reflect on Johnson’s belief that leaders always put teachers first, not students. From time to time in my leadership career, it was necessary to intervene when student needs were not being met. Still, I appreciate Johnson’s view, and he provides great advice in a chapter on inspiring teachers to remember their purpose.

Lastly, leaders who give lip service to putting teachers first will quickly find out “Most teachers don’t quit their job, they quit their administration.” To avoid this, Putting Teachers First richly deserves a place on your desk, not your bookshelf.

Brad Latzke has taught and served in leadership positions at international schools in Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Qatar, and China. After a three year sabbatical, he temporarily returned to international education as middle school principal at Hong Kong International School. Brad continues to share his learning on Twitter (@BradLatzke) and his website (Expanding Learning Frontiers) while promoting educational innovation and change initiatives in schools.



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