A Human-Centered Lens on the Start of School

Human-centered leadership is centering the people in our communities. In schools that looks like a shift from centering policies, test scores, political agendas, or data to centering human beings.

I might argue we all think we’re centering humanity, but our teachers and communities might wonder.

Here are a few ideas of how to do better as a human-centered leader this school year.


This past weekend, at a family wedding, we discussed how we were pursuing wellness as individuals and in our homes. One fruitful idea that came up was a weekly day of rest.

My extended family member eagerly reported, “We’re reclaiming rest on Sundays. We think the ancient traditions were on to something. So, we revamped the Sunday football parties and we’re making the party quieter and at home. We just can’t always be extending ourselves in social situations.”

Her description inspired us to discuss other ancient traditions of prayer, mindfulness, and meditation as avenues for becoming the whole people we were meant to be.

How can we weave these ancient traditions into our jam-packed lives?

What I know for sure…

Wellness is communal. We have to discuss systemic wellness from the standpoint of equity, dignity, listening, and empowerment. Our team has to feel engaged in being and becoming whole and our best selves. Even this dialogue, like the one I experienced, on a regular basis, will center our leadership on the human experience in our school.

Lead Up

I know what you’re thinking, ‘How can I possibly shift the system towards human-centeredness? I’m middle management, here at the building level.’

If you’re a building leader, I want you to consider how you have more influence than you realize to impact change.

You can influence policies to include more flexibility. Your voice can ring true about the dynamics in your community. You can focus on the celebrations within your school with enthusiasm and joy. You can choose to be a light in the shadowy corners.

Finally, you can design for thriving. For example, this week in the mastermind, we hosted an in-depth discussion on how to design a communication plan for you, your school, and even your district. How can you influence your school district to have a strategic communication plan with stakeholders: including teachers, support staff, parents, students, and even media? Designing for thriving includes ensuring you are proactive and leading your community well.

Authentic Belonging

Belonging is more than pizza and soda on a Thursday afternoon in August.

Authentic belonging is getting to know one another over time, building connections, solving problems together, and truly accepting one another. Starting the school year with a commitment to cultivating authentic belonging as a team is a bold statement.

Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.”

~Brene Brown

What does ‘belonging’ in the workplace feel like?

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to a colleague as she shared some concerns about our collective readiness for a project. Her communication was laced with emotion and her voice shook with the expression.

I am mindful at that moment to understand I must listen and embrace emotional expressions amidst the process of growing and developing our organization. Emotional people belong in the organizations I lead. While it’s helpful when we focus on solutions, listening is a human-centered activity.

Later we discuss as a team how we want to make the margin and build trust to be able to bravely hold space for our whole selves, including our emotions.

“Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behaviour.”

~Brene Brown

This is a step in the direction of bravely creating belonging for one another.


Let’s hold our imperfections and humanity with compassion. There is no blame, only learning and growth.

I know we all want to scapegoat. I do too. When difficulties arise, betrayals happen, or failure haunts me, I am also tempted to make it about someone else. However, it’s never one person’s fault (or even two). It’s simply an invitation to explore our values, do better next time, and evolve as a system.

Being compassionate with myself holds the door open for my compassion for others and for the systems within which I serve.

So, at times, when people have directly and indirectly blamed me, I commit to holding these affronts with compassion as well.

We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have at this moment in time. I battle to remain hopeful.

This is a daily practice that I’m keeping in mind, as I step imperfectly toward a new school year.

An Inner Journey

What is the change that needs to happen inside you, to realize the change you wish to see in your school?

This is one of my favorite Principal coaching questions.

This year I want to deepen my own healing and wholeness. I want to find more joy, create more energy, and play more often. I want to notice my own laughter and forgive more quickly. Stepping away from toxic relationships or just holding them with more tenderness is the order of the day.

These are some of my own inner journeys of radical self-inquiry. As you peer into another school year, how can you plan for time and space to take an inner journey that matters?

Our communities are inherently the place where we can mature into the best version of ourselves. This self-actualization comes with a compassionate inner journey to be radically open and honest about who we are and what’s shaping our responses.

For the sake of the children,