Your School Secretary:
The Voice and Face
of Your School Culture
Why should we care how a secretary answers a phone or greets visitors and students to the office?
Because the culture reflected by the secretary is often indicative of the school culture.
When I was earning my undergraduate degree at Ohio University in Education, many of my professors were former school superintendents. They stressed how the classified staff is an important part of the educational process in a school. And although they might not have a college degree, they were no less relevant to the students than the teachers or principal. I mentored many new teachers who felt they were more important than the custodian. I was always quick to point out how little value they were in the classroom when a student has a protein spill (Amusement park lingo for ‘vomit’) in their classroom. Especially in the younger classes where throwing up can be contagious, a quick response from your custodian is both necessary and appreciated.
Kindness towards the school cooks often resulted in larger portions that was often a life saver for rookie teachers with a limited grocery budget. We were told how important it was to have a great working relationship with the secretary because not only did she run the school, but oversaw the supply cabinet and controlled if your dittos (Yes, I am that old!) were ready when you needed them.
The school secretary has one of the most challenging jobs in a school. There is an almost nonstop stream of students, visitor, phone calls, and administrative details that must be attended during the school day. And above everything else they do, they are the voice and face of your school culture. There are great secretaries in every school I visit or work with. And because there are so many great secretaries, it makes the not so great stand out. I can almost instantly guess the climate of the school I’m visiting just by engaging with the secretary.
How does your secretary answer the phone? “Good Morning, Sunshine Middle School. How may I help you?” Or a quick, flat, “Sunshine Middle School.” How do they greet students, parents, and visitors to the office? “Hello, how may I help you?” Or, “Can I help you?” My father started as an account executive with Ohio Bell in the early 1960s. They ran a promotion, “Put a smile in your voice.” They gave out pocket mirrors with the slogan printed on the back. It is amazing how we can tell someone is smiling when they are talking, even when we cannot see them…
Does your Secretary have a smile in his or her voice?
Why should we care how a secretary answers a phone or greets visitors and students to the office? Because the culture reflected by the secretary is often indicative of the school culture. Many people want to blame bullying for target acts of violence in schools. The bullying is a symptom of school culture. If bullying is prevalent in your schools by your students and, yes, staff, that indicates your school has a toxic environment. A toxic environment means students are less likely to be engages with other students and staff at their school. It is the lack of engagement that can lead to targeted acts of violence.
There is no ‘one thing’ we can do to prevent targeted acts of violence at school. It is a multi-layered approach. One of the most important and least expensive layers is a positive school culture. Your school secretary can be an indicator of your school culture.
Is your school secretary reflecting the culture you want in your building?
Take the temperature of your school’s climate. Is it warm and inviting, conducive to nurturing young minds and good mental health?