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School Offices Must Serve as Sanctuaries


As Abby walked into the school building she had a sinking feeling in her stomach. It was November and she had just moved into a new community. She was nervous about starting a new school midway through the school year. This was her first day of school and she kept her eyes down, nervous, not knowing what to expect as she walked into the main office. Suddenly, the office secretary called out to her in a tone that made her skip a breath, “Where are you supposed to be?  Do you have a pass?  Move on now before the tardy bell rings and the vice principal gives you a detention for being late.”

Each day in school offices across the country this scenario is playing out with regularity.  Although it may come across as somewhat exaggerated, those of you who have spent any amount of time in school have probably at one time or another been witness to such an interaction in the main office area.  It is these defined interactions that has led to us to ponder this question.  Have we reached the point where we are willing to allow negative interactions to drive the level of success of our students, staff and our school? What if we were to pause, step back and view our office culture through the eyes of students, parents, guests or even staff who visit the main office? What would they say?  If we manage our interactions appropriately they will leave feeling valued and cared for and look forward to their next return trip.

Great office cultures are created by design, not by default or serendipity.  As school leaders, we must be cautious of the sounds around us. Don’t get so lost in the noise that you fail to listen to the words that are being spoken or more importantly, how they are being spoken. Take time to examine the conversations with a critical eye. Be present enough to notice the faces of those who both work in and enter your offices. Do their faces shine bright or do they seem stressed and burdened? Is their tone kind and sincere or is it harsh and tempered? Are the conversations positive and focused on how we can help others, or are they self-serving? Is every telephone call answered and every guest greeted in a manner that leaves the person thinking that they are the most important person to you in that very moment?

Imagine an office where the mindset of every staff member who served as an administrative assistant believed that their title was the Director of First Impressions.  As school leaders, shouldn’t we strive to ensure that every office has this same expectation as a job title? More importantly, are we as school administrators modeling this title in our interactions with others on a daily basis?  


Does your office environment have the elements of a morale builder or morale killer?

Morale Builder                                                                               Morale Killer

  • Student’s 1st                                                                              Adult Centered
  • Servant Leader                                                                          Self-Serving
  • Flexible                                                                                       Rigid
  • Works with Team                                                                     Prefers Isolation
  • Maintains Confidentiality                                                       Encourages Gossip
  • Cherishes Conversations                                                         Sees Interactions As Disruption
  • Takes Initiative                                                                          Makes Excuses
  • Embraces Conflict                                                                     Avoids Differences
  • Engaging                                                                                     Unpleasant
  • Grateful                                                                                       Unappreciative

School offices must serve as sanctuaries of support where people can come to have their morales boosted, not suppressed. Schools are filled with thousands of interactions a day that can either diminish or enhance the experiences of members of our school communities.  Does your school practice a set of guiding principles that serve as a model of how to treat others?

If not, it is time to re-examine the noise and harness the conversations in a way that will influence the personality of your office areas in a positive way so that your first impression will be a great first impression; an experience everyone deserves.


“A conversation is so much more than words: a conversion is eyes, smiles, the silences between words.”

 Annika Thor

  • jeaneen gasque
    1 year ago

    I enjoyed reading this article. It is always good to be revived and encouraged to strive to do better in the workplace.

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