Monthly Archives: September 2013

Building a Team of Honesty

As a school leader who was valued as a teacher for my willingness to always give my students the best I had, to coach and facilitate other extra activities and to give honest feedback to the principals, I was very surprised when I became a leader how hard it was to get honest feedback sometimes from teachers. Often, I experienced teachers not giving any feedback at all or telling me what they thought I wanted to hear.

Critical conversations are essential to a vibrant school community. However, early in my administrative career, I found intellectual discourse surrounding student and adult learning was difficult to facilitate. My greatest success, though, in building an understanding that I would accept and listen too all types of feedback AND demonstrate a willingness to incorporate components of the feedback into my decisions, was in building trust between myself and the other faculty/staff members (see https://drtewright.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/building-trust-savmp/). Building trust in relationships among the school personal will allow for open and critical dialogue between teachers and school leaders that should ultimately impact student learning and the school environment positively. In addition to this, creating multiple ways for people to deliver feedback is instrumental in getting honest feedback about certain issues. From circulating through the school, having an “open door” policy (when actually in the office), providing online and anonymous survey opportunities about progress and professional development, a school leader can also gather the feedback from its “team of honesty.” I believe this is a very important way to move towards improved student achievement and school learning environment.

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Innovation

Leaving a position as a classroom teacher and moving into an administrative role, I never expected that “Innovation” would end up being such an often discussed concept in education and a much sought after ideal.

If we talk about Innovation in the technological sense, my time in education (16 years) has been a time ripe with technological advances. I remember being considered an “Innovative” teacher at the turn of the century because I used webquests (I chuckle as I write that considering the tools we have now). However, even today, many teachers seem to use technological advances in ways that simply replace other tools (like power point instead of overheads), which I would argue is not really innovation, since it is not “something new introduced” (dictionary.com).

Being Innovative as a leader can be interpreted in many ways. Is it a school leader who herself uses social media tools to communicate with families and the community? Is it the school leader who promotes the use of technological tools among her instructors?

I would argue that the Innovation for a school leader is demonstrated through a desire to think outside of a regular set of ideas to solve a problem or improve student learning. It may involve technology; it my not. But in my mind, it ALWAYS involves creative thinking and integrated approaches to problem solving. This mindset and the actions that demonstrate such a mindset are a hallmark of an innovative educational leader.

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Developing Leaders

Much of the literature on school leadership uses many of the following words to describe how leaders can develop the leadership of others within organizations or schools.

Leaders should:

-empower others

-share leadership with others

-distribute leadership to others

There are many more commonly used phrases, but these are the top three that come to mind. To me, they have a slightly condescending tone at times, meaning that the LEADER is “evolved” enough to recognize “worthy” employees to empower, or with which to share and/or distribute HER leadership to them as a way to develop them as leaders. As I was preparing to be a leader, I never expected this pervasive and seemingly paternalistic tone to be as prevalent as it really was when I entered an assistant principal position, being trained by my district on how to “empower” the teachers to develop their leadership.

I’d like to offer an alternative perspective. Much of the basis for the leadership program in which I was prepared was from the writings of Mary Parker Follett, a political scientist who was a social worker much of the time by “trade” in the 1920’s. In her writings, she discussed a horizontal type of leadership, where people within an organization led because at that moment, it was their job or task to do so. Her theories acknowledged the need to honor the strengths of all workers and continuously work to integrate tasks and ideas across an entire organization. Therefor, a worker’s orders were created by the work itself, not by the titled “leader” of the organization (Graham, 1995). Therefore, I would simply argue that developing leadership in others often revolves around creating a culture that honors a horizontal leadership structure instead of one that’s vertical. Properly training teachers and staff to complete their tasks in the process of educating children, acknowledging that with their tasks, they simply have leadership and are the masters of their tasks. In a recent reflection paper, one of my Leadership students, in responding to why he’s in a Leadership program, indicated that he has recognized that in the calling of teaching, we are in fact leaders, and he wants to honor that part of his calling to a greater extent to impact student development and learning. School leaders, by encouraging their teachers and staff to look at the leadership within themselves and by giving them the freedom to be the leaders at their tasks will help them grow as leaders.

Leadership is not something that is to be given from one person to another. It’s a trait that with the right encouragement and guidance can emerge from all of us.

Graham, P., ed. (1995). Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of management. Harvard Business School Press.

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Building Trust (#SAVMP)

“How do you work to build trust starting in a new place?”

Challenged by George Couros’ question above and by the same question posed by one of my mentees in #SAVMP, I am going to address my experiences as a leader building trust in a “new-to-me” school. When I was preparing to be a school leader in my principal preparation program, the importance of building trust and community was emphasized; I was blessed to get the beginning understanding of that. However, until I lived it as a new school leader, I wasn’t prepared for the marathon that I discovered building trust to be.

Some of the following are behaviors that I’ve either seen school leaders demonstrate or methods I’ve used in developing trust in a new place.

1) Be visible. Greet students, teachers and staff members as they enter. Notice their affect and comment appropriately as you learn personalities.

2) Ask about and talk to students, teachers and staff members about their interests, and remember what they said for the next discussion.

3) Work hard. Harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. Work harder than your teachers, if that’s possible. Do what you expect others to do in the best interest of children.

4) When you can’t remember that a task is associated with the good of the students in your school, leave the office and go interact with some of them. That will be a reminder.

5) Listen, listen, listen. People will know that you’ve listened when you grant requests as you’re able to and as appropriate for the good of students.

6) As a new leader, observe a lot. Dole out the praise for everything you see that’s worthy of it.

7) Demonstrate to everyone that you are trustworthy. Follow through on everything you say you are going to do. Make decisions that positively impact the learning environment of each child.

Over time, completing these actions over and over, as if putting one foot in front of the other in a marathon, will build the long-lasting brand of trust that impacts school climate positively over time.

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