Featured / Jul 06, 2023

Building A Culture of Connection And Community with Linsae Snider

Building a Culture of Connection


With over 29 years of experience in public education as a teacher, program coordinator, and school district administrator, it came as no surprise that Linsae Snider brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her leadership position at TSPRA. Her remarkable journey is one of unwavering dedication and a tireless commitment to building a culture of community.

What was surprising? That during her tenure, she did much more than that. Snider created a legacy of her own. She elevated TSPRA to unprecedented heights with her extraordinary work ethic and a genuine love for public schools and their advocates.

We had the honor of sitting down with Snider to learn about her incredible journey, the principles that guided her success, and the invaluable lessons she learned along the way.

We’re here to chat about community building and community in schools and districts. What does culture of community mean to you?

Community is a hugely important aspect of leadership. Whether you’re a superintendent, whether you’re a communications director, [or] whether you’re a teacher. 

It’s about community. And I don’t think they really teach us that in our education classes. That’s the best way I like to define community is connection. You gotta connect people, and that’s how you build community, as connections. 

And there are a whole lot of things about communications that come into connections. The first thing I’m going to say is, we all know, we learned early on, we’ve heard it our whole life, that people make a first impression in the first three seconds. It’s not what you say, it’s the body language, it’s the visual. It’s not the words, you know, it’s the tone. The tone comes out in your words, and the tone comes out in your body language. 

So, I think the first way we build community, or the first way we connect is by our appearance. And I’m pretty big on that one. I visit schools, and I look at people. Sometimes I’m in these schools and I look, and, you know. The biggest employer in many communities is the school district, and the superintendent and the principals are the CEOs of the biggest employers in the community. 

I look at them sometimes, and I’m like, ‘This is not how bankers, this is not how lawyers, this is not how leaders in other professions look. We need to look like leaders.’ And I know that’s probably offensive to some people, and I know there are days where you all want to look and be comfortable, but I think our appearance is the first thing. So, the first, they say the first three seconds, affects how we connect. 

The second thing about connection is being present.

You gotta be there, you gotta leave your office, you gotta show up, you gotta be seen. And that’s a hard task because we’re busy, and in schools, we’re busier than we’ve ever been. And we just have to build that time in where we leave the office. The work’s going to sit there, we’re going to have to get to it later or eventually, but we’ve got to go into classrooms, we’re going to go out to the community, we’ve got to go to the coffee shops, we’ve got to go to churches, we’ve got to go see the realtors, we’ve got to go to civic groups. We’ve got to be seen. 

And I speak of that if you’re a superintendent. If you’re a communications director, if you’re a teacher, you can’t leave and do those things, but your presence at the grocery stores, your presence at church, your presence at the dollar store, that’s a connection you’re making. And your appearance is probably the first thing. 

Something I’ll bring up too is, you know, my mother was a teacher, so I never saw or felt that until I was a teacher. But, you know, when you’re out in the community and your kids and your kids’ parents see you, they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s the teacher. She’s at the dollar store. She, I mean, she’s like a real person.’ 

I remember my early years of teaching, I lived in an apartment, and I’m coming home from work one day or coming home from school because this teacher, we call coming home from school, we don’t call it coming home from work. And I’m going up the stairs to my apartment, and I see one of my students. Oddly enough, her grandmother lived in an apartment next to me, I didn’t know it. But the next day at school, it was all over school, you know, ‘Miss Snyder lives in those apartments. I saw her,’ you know, like, it was like a marvel that I didn’t live someplace besides the school.

So, those connections are important there. And then there was a third thing about connections I was going to say. 

The third one is, we all love hearing our name.

And the easiest way, I think, to connect with somebody is to say their name to them. And we, in public education, are in a great position because we have to wear the tags, we have to wear the badges, our name is written on us. 

Sometimes it’s about the eye contact, you have to look down really quick to see that badge while you’re making eye contact. But in the education business, most of us are wearing our name. 

And so, the simplest clue I would give to anybody about connecting, call people by name. Even if you’re in a restaurant and the waitress says, ‘I’m Karessa, and I’m going to be your waiter today,’ say, ‘Thank you, Karessa, Karessa I’d like a water.” Use people’s names, and that is an automatic connection and connection builds community.

…. asking someone about their name is a great way to show respect and establish a connection. People love to talk about their names and the stories behind them. Another tip I have is to express admiration for the spelling or uniqueness of someone’s name. 

For example, saying, “I love your name or the spelling of your name. Could you please tell me exactly how you say it?” It’s a nice conversation starter and shows genuine interest. People love their name, they love to talk about their name. If you gotta have a conversation, it’s a great conversation starter– tell me how you were named that, tell me where that name came from, people love their name and love to be called by their name. 

When this is over today, if nobody gets anything else from what I say, call people by their name, and ask them about their name!

How would you say all those different levels (from the classroom to the school to the district) work together to build a culture of community?

That one’s a hard one. You know we all went into education to teach kids. In our education courses, they don’t teach us that we have to work with other adults, that we have paperwork, that we have meetings, that we have all of this other stuff we have to do. We are in a job that’s very, very difficult and it’s very complex, and I think everybody out there went to school so they think they know all about it. But the part they see is just the teacher in the classroom or the principal in the office doing whatever. 

I’m a big believer that the best definition of leadership I can give is “influence.” I believe that for leaders everywhere, it’s about influence. And you influence by modeling. So whatever the superintendent is doing is what the principals are going to do. Whatever the principal’s doing is what the teachers are going to do. Whatever the teachers are doing is probably what the students and parents are going to do. So it’s all about influence.

Sometimes you are in the midst of working for somebody who has an impactful influence. They model everything you want to be and everything you want to do. Sometimes you work with people that you don’t really see that jive…. I think a lot of the building culture is top-down, and there is research to support that. 

But I think in an individual classroom, the teacher is the leader of that classroom. And that teacher influences it. That teacher can do things– I’m going to drill it down to the classroom right now– that teacher can do things to build culture within their own classroom that they’re modeling that perhaps other people at the campus level will pick up.

Perhaps time management in the classroom is so difficult because you got to teach. You’ve got paperwork, you’ve got meetings– you’ve got all this other stuff you’ve got to do. One idea I always pitch to principals is to encourage teachers is to do a monthly calendar.

In that monthly calendar, let parents know:

‘I am working late these three days this month. I will be in my classroom till six o’clock’ (because teachers are there that late.) 

‘These are the three days I will be in my classroom if you want to come talk to me, I’m there on these three days. I have family too, just like everybody else. The other days, I’m probably not going to be in my classroom that late, or my time is designated for family. But have a couple of days that you tell parents every month. There are so many tools out there, and ClassTag has those tools, to communicate with parents to say–  this is my calendar for the month. Come talk to me.’

I think, in addition to that, there are certain days that teachers can designate and say, ‘Come to my classroom these days. These are the days I invite you to my classroom. If you can get away from work, if you can get away from home, if you can do whatever, come. Come to my classroom now.’

When I say that, the teachers also got to build activities that day so that when teachers are in the classroom, [they’re] also taking care of class… ‘Tuesday, November 1st parents are invited to my classroom all day. I’m probably not going to do direct teaching because direct teaching is with kids. But, I’m probably doing guided practice or independent practice. So, they’re working independently and I can help them as they need help….’ 

I think the public doesn’t know, even though we all went to school, it’s a management game to take care of 30 kids and I don’t care if they’re five-year-olds or they’re 12-year-olds.

Five-year-olds are a different set of management skills, and 18-year-olds are also a set of management skills, you know. So let people in there. 

I’m going to go one step further…

… and talk beyond the classroom to the district level. I think at the district level one of the things you can do is invite the realtors to school. You have no idea what influence realtors have on home buying. If your realtors are telling potential home buyers, “This is a good school, this isn’t a good school… this is a great principal, this principal over here is pretty snotty….” 

I mean, get those realtors on your side. Even if you’re in a small town, and you have one realtor. Get that realtor in school to see what actually goes on. Your realtors do more to help or to damage the reputation district than you can imagine.

Also, invite the media about once a year, at least every two years. Bring the media in, have your maintenance people manicure the grounds, have the buildings clean, and have the floor shining. Designate a couple of classrooms where the kids can be filmed and have them come in there with their cameras and do a B-roll….

Now fast forward to 2020 and 2022. We want people in school to see what our business is. Especially in this culture we’re living in today, there’s so much that goes on that could be misinformation. And let people in your schools. We’ve got to be transparent about what we’re doing in schools, and the difficulty in the job.

Do you believe that PR starts in the classroom?

I love what you said about inviting parents into your classroom and even allowing them to. As a teacher, you have a lot of things going on. So leverage those other parents that can come into your classroom and give them something to do to help while you’re in there. But let them see what’s going on. If you can’t, there are tools out there like ClassTag that will allow teachers and schools at all levels to see those glimpses of what’s going on in the classroom. 

And I just feel that that’s what makes a parent feel connected and get the warm fuzzies and the peace of mind. And then? Go advocate for your teachers and your school and your district.

For more ProfessionalED CommUnity Builders on district leadership and culture of community, read and watch Sarah Norman talking about where educational leaders should turn their focus in 2023. 

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