For many school administrators, being present at lunch duty is a daily obligation that eats into the "real" work of the day. "I need to be there to maintain order," is the common line of reasoning. For the best school leaders, lunch is an opportunity to connect, teach, learn and lead - cafeteria duty is time that's cherished, not begrudged. Following are some tips on how to make the best use of this time.
Celebrate and Inspire: Use the forum to conduct daily shout outs for kids and classes that have exhibited excellence in one form or another. For example, publicly honor the winning debate team, the kid who won the art poster contest or the class with perfect attendance for a week. Consider utilizing a thought of the day to reinforce school values, singing school songs and chants, and having kids act out skits. If you're not sure where to start with these types of rituals and celebrations, visit a few camps this summer and see how they do things during lunch.
Practice Routines: There is an element of schooling that is all about safety and efficiency. In the cafeteria, you as a leader have a daily opportunity to model and refine "how things are done" in your school. For example, this is your chance to model how we get attention without yelling, how we get on line in an orderly fashion, and how to use manners with the cafeteria staff, etc. The more routines you develop to help with the people flow and atmosphere in the cafeteria, the better off the whole school will be after lunch. Your teachers will be grateful for it!
Listen: Think of lunch time as one big focus group of kids waiting to deliver feedback on how things could be improved. When I visit school cafeterias there are two questions I repeatedly ask. "What do you love about this school?," and "If you were the principal, what's one thing you would change?" When asked the right question, kids will open up and tell you exactly what they think. Also, try to listen in passively. To the extent that it's possible, hover and observe - without intruding - to see and hear what is being said and done. You might notice issues with bullying, how technology is being used, who is being left out, who is emerging as a leader - for good or otherwise, etc. Try at times to disappear and take the pulse of your school environment, and remember the old adage about why we have one mouth and two ears.
Strengthen Relationships: Seek out the kids who fly under the radar - the quiet ones, the less confident, the ones who don't high five you in the hall or show you the 100's they got on their quizzes. Show them that you notice them, and that you care as much about them as you do the extroverted kids who find ample success in school. Be sure, as well, to build rapport with students with social, emotional or behavioral challenges because they need your support and their trust in you will be necessary on difficult days.
Finally, don't be afraid to sit down and eat with the kids. Experience the food, the pace and the camaraderie. Grab a hot lunch, take your spork from its wrapping and ask a kid to help you open your chocolate milk. Nothing will make you more human in their eyes, and you'll be surprised how much better school lunch tastes when shared with a group of enthusiastic kids eager for your time and attention!