Podcast S1. Ep 35: A Strategy To Connect: The Staff Chips - Alicia Jensen

John Norlin · June 20, 2019

Alicia Jensen is the Principal at Ptarmigan Ridge Elementary in Orting WA. She was a cast member at Disney World in the college internship program and she also is an incredibly passionate administrator who is always looking for different ways to serve her students and staff.

We talk with Alicia about the Staff Chips, a simple and creative tool that she uses to intentionally connect with her staff.


“I realized, when I looked at all the adults in my school, I was spending about 80% of the time with only about 14 people or about 20%. So I was wondering about how to be more intentional about having relationships with all of the other people that are in my school every day. So it’s not real exciting. It’s just a bunch of wooden nickles. I could buy 200 of them for 10 bucks on Amazon, and they were cuter than Popsicle sticks.”

— Alicia Jensen

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Welcome to the CharacterStrong podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today, we're talking with Alicia Jensen who is Principal of Ptarmigan Ridge Elementary in Orting, Washington. Alicia is an incredibly passionate administrator who is always looking for different ways to serve her students and staff, and fun fact, was once a cast member at Disney World in the College Internship Program. Are you ready? Let's get CharacterStrong with Alicia Jensen.

  • John: All right. We're so excited to have Alicia Jensen with us today for the CharacterStrong podcast. She is Principal of Ptarmigan Ridge Elementary in the Orting School District. And one of the things that directed me to wanting to bring you on the show, Alicia, is what you're doing with the staff chips and how you're intentionally connecting with your staff more. Thank you for being with us. Would you be willing to tell us a little bit about this idea that you've been putting into action?

  • Alicia: Yeah. So it's all based on that idea that you take ... that about 80% of your time is spent with about 20% of the people in your life. So I realized, when I looked at all the adults in my school, I was spending about 80% of the time with only about 14 people or about 20%. So I was wondering about how to be more intentional about having relationships with all of the other people that are in my school every day. So it's not real exciting. It's just a bunch of wooden nickles. I could buy 200 of them for 10 bucks on Amazon, and they were cuter than Popsicle sticks.

  • Alicia: So I just went and wrote every single person's name on a wooden nickel and I put them in a cute jar in my office. Each day, I just go and draw out three names, and I just make intention to go and connect with those three people that day, either before school, during school, after school, and connect with them about something about outside of school, give them a genuine compliment, tell them how much I appreciate having them as part of our school. What I've noticed is that, when I go out to do it, I tend to find other people who are not the ones that are necessarily on my list of must find people, but I just connect with them more as well.

  • Alicia: So once I've connected with the person, I just go and take their chip and move it to the other jar, and repeat the process again the next day.

  • John: I love it. Well one, I love ... We're big fans at CharacterStrong of low burden, high impact type of strategies. It sounds like this would fit within that. You're saying it took me 10 dollars, a little bit of intentionality building it outright. Would you say that it fits under that low burden, high impact in terms of what you're saying?

  • Alicia: Yeah, super low burden, really high impact, and really easily adaptable to lots of different levels.

  • John: That's great.

  • Alicia: So teachers stop by my office and be like, why is my name on a chip? Then I explain to them it's not weird, I swear. I just want to make sure ... and tell them I want to make sure I connect with more people and not just the people who will swing by my office, or that I know I'm going to see based on their positions. Even they have been like, oh I can do that with the kids in my class. Yeah, absolutely. It would be easy to go and write all the kids in your class on a chip and pull out this is the kid I'm going to make sure I connect with today, who may not be someone who's on my radar for someone to connect with each day.

  • John: Love it. So tell me about the idea of the chip too. I think there must be something there, even specific to the chip idea, because we've all had goals before where we say I want to connect with more people that I don't normally connect with. Maybe come back to that a little bit, the idea of having them on these chips in a jar or bowl where you're going in and randomly picking some out. A little bit of that, what has that done, when you have it in that kind of fashion? Is it that it makes the randomness even more energizing? Does it make it more like a game? What is the uniqueness do you feel like in terms of the impact connected to the actual chip, like putting their names on the chip?

  • Alicia: So I think it fills a couple of different pieces. It's not the people that I would first go out and pick necessarily. So because of that randomness, I don't know who it's going to be that day. So it does sort of impact a little bit of, oh gosh I hadn't maybe intended on being in the lunch room today, but the person whose chip I pulled is only at our school for an hour and half during lunch monitoring, so I'm going to make sure I'll be there today. That may be different then what I'd initially planned. So there's some excitement that comes with, oh I can't wait to talk to this person again.

  • Alicia: Also, just some realization about the relationships we have with people. Some people it's really easy to connect with them about stuff I know about them personally from outside of school. Others I realize I don't know as much about. So there's that excitement that also comes with building a new relationship and finding out new things about people, that's super fun as well. It is really cute, I must say, that there is a cuteness factor.


“...if we’re going to truly lead work, then we have to be a part of it, and we can only do that through relationship and community. So, in order for that to happen, we can’t just always be in a meeting. We have to actually be out with everybody. So I think part of that as how it’s impacting others is just making sure of the whole school, and I’m a part of the things that are happening, and I’m a part of the people’s lives that all of us work together towards our goals.”

— Alicia Jensen


 

  • John: Yes, absolutely, and we all want that. Whenever we can increase our cuteness factor then we are on point. I like that a lot. Well then tell me about this. Our goal at the CharacterStrong podcast is an idea or a strategy that we zero in on that, that we talk about it. It's about 10 minutes or so, right? So within that then, talk to me a little bit. What have you noticed, maybe two sides. What have you noticed about your own leadership now through this process? We lead people, we manage things.

  • John: So on the people side of your own leadership. Then the other is what have you noticed in terms of impact? I know you've already alluded to it a little bit, but maybe answer that. What impact in you personally as a leader, and what impact have you seen this intentional work having on your staff?

  • Alicia: So for me personally as a leader, I've noticed that I pay more with a sense of the people and less of the stuff that I need to get done. There will always be a ton of things on my to do list. I'm a building principle. It comes with the territory, but I sometimes was letting that get to the front of my brain when I'd get to the school in the morning. This way it sort of shifts that, and the people become the first thing at the front when I come to school. So, for me as a leader, just really shifting that to being much more intentional about the work that we do is for people to get results, so how do we focus around the people side of it. So for me, it's really done that.

  • Alicia: I would say, as a system wise, the more that any leaders are out in school and just that presence I think has a huge impact on schools and organizations as a whole. How do we ... if we're going to truly lead work, then we have to be a part of it, and we can only do that through relationship and community. So, in order for that to happen, we can't just always be in a meeting. We have to actually be out with everybody. So I think part of that as how it's impacting others is just making sure of the whole school, and I'm a part of the things that are happening, and I'm a part of the people's lives that all of us work together towards our goals.

  • John: I love it. Would you say that the idea of small wins plays a role here? Sometimes the people work can become so overwhelming that then we don't end up doing it sometimes at all, like keep putting it off.

  • Alicia: Right?

  • John: The idea of picking two or three chips a day, does that make a big difference for you? It's like, I can get these three small wins, and by being really intentional in those small wins, it adds up overtime to this really big thing, which is that you're more intentional with that 80% that you're not hitting.

  • Alicia: Yeah, and it's totally a small win. It's totally doable. My goal for my year has been all about how do I create more relationships with students and staff has been my big character goal for the year. So the beginning of the year, I was super energized and had tons of strategies and how I was going to do it. Then it comes to the middle of the year and things come up, and it gets harder and harder, and you feel like you're off and how do I get back on this train that I wanted to be on, but what do I do now?

  • Alicia: So it seemed like a way that I could get back on that path without being like, oh I have to go and rebuild all these relationships with everyone at the same time, but realizing that you're in a different relationship place with each person at all times.

  • John: What I love ... There's so many things that I love about it. I love the simplicity. I love the impacts of the low burden, high impact. I also love just, in your words, so much is on our to do list, but how many times the who I want to be list isn't happening, and that you're doing that in an intentional way. I think about the idea of when you get your people what they need, they'll get you as a leader what you need. By meeting the needs of connecting more intentionally and valuing them, and showing them, I see you, I appreciate you, and not just when they come to you, but that you're getting out there to them.

  • John: Then thinking about the impact that has on students when they see that you're out and about more intentionally as a building administrator, because the job that you do is really difficult. Just like it is for teachers in the classroom to be intentional across the board with all students. So I think this idea transcends all areas of a school, or even any organization with ways that we can be more intentional.

  • John: Well thank you for taking the time-

  • Alicia: Absolutely.

  • John: -to be with us. Maybe, if there's other ideas that are coming in the role, I love your intentionality that you have, that come up, please let us know again. It'd be fun to have you back on with us for another CharacterStrong podcast, but as we close down today, don't forget we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught. Make it a great day everybody. Thank you.

  • Alicia: Bye.

  • John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Spotify and iTunes. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.


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  • Characterstrong
  • character
  • social emotional learning
  • middle school

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John Norlin

John is the Program Administrator for Student Leadership & Community Involvement for the Sumner School District, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year and taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School.