6 Ways for School Leaders to Make Emotional Bank Account Deposits
piggy bank with hand dropping a coin into the slot

Anxious. Overwhelmed. Stressed. Tired.

As a leader on a school campus, you probably have made many efforts to help staff to support them through how they are (still!) feeling when it comes to COVID. Breakfast treats in the teachers’ lounge, coffee deliveries to classrooms, nacho bar, mocktail bar, school spirit swag gifts (logo masks anyone?). You’re bringing out the fun and showing appreciation, right?

But if you’ve found that the effects of these special treats have been short lived (or even unnoticed), and adults on campus need more than a pick-me-up, it’s likely that Emotional Bank Account is low in funds. Read on to find out why.

What is an Emotional Bank Account?

Stephen Covey, who coined the term Emotional Bank Account, defines it like this: “By proactively doing things that build trust in a relationship, one makes ‘deposits.’ Conversely, by reactively doing things that decrease trust, one makes ‘withdrawals.’

The current ‘balance’ in the Emotional Bank Account, will determine how well two people can communicate and problem-solve together.”

Every relationship has an Emotional Bank Account and our interactions either make deposits and grow the account, or withdraw from and deplete the account. But thoughtful gestures or gifts don’t necessarily make deposits.

I learned this hard way.

“Currency” is what really matters to people.

The Mickey Santa ornament that was not the right emotional currency.

One year when I was a principal, I came up with a new staff holiday gift idea and decided that I would craft ornaments for each staff member on my school site for Christmas. It was about 70 ornaments. Also, I should note, I’m not a crafter. I bought clear glass ball ornaments and stuffed them with red and green crinkle paper shreds. Because the opening of the glass ball ornament was so small, the paper needed to be put in almost one piece at a time.

I learned to use a cricket that I borrowed from a friend, and created vinyl decals that said my school name and the year. I also created teeny tiny silhouettes of Mickey Mouse’s head wearing Santa hats that were cut from the same sparkly red vinyl (big Disney fans on my campus). The school name decals along with the Mickey heads each needed to be “weeded,” which means removing tiny negative space pieces with what looks like a dental pick, and adhered to the glass balls.

Did I mention I made seventy? Oh and I wrapped and decorated each one of the ornaments. It turned out to be a fun project for me, but it was way more effort than I had put in to any other staff gift before.

Needless to say the Mickey Santa personalized ornaments weren’t a huge hit (what was I expecting?). This experience gave me pause and made me realize it just wasn’t the currency of my staff.

While fun and tasty or crafty nods of appreciation are certainly welcome on campus (thank you, Pinterest), most people’s currency is interactions that build trust. What matters are intentional, regular interactions, also known as deposits. If you want to lead with impact through crisis and chaos, here are six ways to make deposits in the emotional bank accounts of your staff.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Six Ways to Make a Deposit Into Emotional Bank Accounts

1) Spend the time to listen actively when others are speaking.

If they are coming to you with a complaint, or sensitive information, sincere listening will make them feel heard and valued, even if you can’t solve the problem for them in that instant.

2) Keep your promises.

Be on time, follow through, and keep your commitments. This goes a long way, especially if you expect the same from your staff.

3) Be clear.

Whatever your expectations are, be sure they are clear and explicit. Clarity builds trust and minimizes confusion or room for interpretation.

4) Little things make a difference.

Small and simple gestures can go a long way and show your staff that you care and are paying attention.

5) Show Integrity.

Your integrity is visible in your words and actions and trust is based on sound integrity.

6) Own your mistakes.

If you’ve made a mistake that violates trust, an authentic apology can help to put a deposit back in the account.

Coping with Pandemic Fatigue

Your staff has a lot on their minds this school year. A LOT. Fear and anxiety, coupled with pandemic fatigue are impacting how teachers and staff are connecting on campus or virtually.

Your efforts to lift spirits are important to boost morale. But your efforts to make deposits in Emotional Bank Accounts are important to school culture that sustains.

“With every interaction in a school, we are either building community or destroying it.”
-James Comer

Another important strategy for increasing emotional bank account balances on campus is to look for ways for staff to make deposits for each other. Creating opportunities to connect and build trust with each other not only enriches their Emotional Bank Accounts, but builds a positive culture among school staff.

Ideas you can build on for designing deposit-making activities.

  • Acknowledging others’ efforts
  • Well-wishes sent to sick staff members or their family members
  • Giving shout outs or praise of each other
  • Listening sessions
  • Staff buddies

Using a bit of staff meeting time or a bulletin board in the hallway will also make the deposits public and inspiring to others, especially through times of shared distress.

Create a System

Are you ready to commit to making regular, intentional deposits in the Emotional Bank Accounts of those you work with? Even the best intentions to show up and be there for others can get derailed when you don’t have a system.

Put regular time on the calendar to check-in, communicate, and show up for others. Develop a system that aligns with your current systems for productivity and stick to it as best as possible.

When the adrenaline rush of the new school year wears off, the day to day exertion of energy being “on” with students, and lengthy to-do lists can make your teachers and staff feel like their Emotional Bank Account is overdrawn.

Intentional efforts to make deposits, build trust, and develop school culture will not only make an impact now, but will be something that is remembered for years to come.

The Principal S.O.S. Bootcamp

Do you feel like you have to do it all at your site and then end up feeling like nothing was done well?

Do you spend so much time putting out fires, that you can’t get to the real work of knowing and supporting students and teachers?

At the end of the day, you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Jenay Enna

Jenay Enna

The goal of The Principal Support is to create and curate resources to help principals and school leaders dial in your work flow and empower your teams so you can accomplish big goals and leave your leadership legacy.

This is where we, as leaders, improve our collective capacity to do great work because, as the saying goes, better leaders make better schools!

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