It’s been a few months since I’ve last posted—life has been hectic. I was fortunate enough to marry an amazing woman with whom I spent two weeks in Italy—undoubtably the best two weeks of my life. More recently I entered an EdD program at Drexel University. A significant part of the program involves writing—while I have improved over the past few years, I still have a lot to learn—a growth mindset. At any rate, this is an excerpt from my first reflective paper on my views of leadership. I plant to use this blog as a place of reflection to evaluate my growth over the next few years as a writer. Feel free to provide feedback!
A Day In The Life
My assumptions regarding leadership in education are grounded in the idea that you have to have specific skills, knowledge, and experiences in order to “do it well.” I believe that educational leaders need to be problem solvers as well as problem finders; schools both public and private face a wide array of obstacles ranging from education reform to sustainability in an uncertain economic climate. They must be creative with their approaches in defining problems even as they attempt to mitigate them. This cannot be accomplished unless school leaders develop their abilities to motivate and support colleagues. It’s not effective for a leader to act as an authority figure, one who mandates curriculum and rules while independently strategizing how best to implement standards and accountability.
I believe it is imperative that school leaders cultivate relationships alongside collaboration in action plans—developing new internal leaders among faculty and staff, who are also responsible for the vision and mission of the school. I can’t help but think that the two most important qualities of an effective leader are empathy and the willingness to learn. This is clearly reflected in the actions of school leaders who have taken the time to develop an honest understanding of the student body, a depth of knowledge regarding the teaching staff and the needs of the of the school. A leader has to be willing to gather this knowledge and implement solutions for change requirements. It is this willingness that separates the best and most effective leaders from those whose primary goal is merely to direct.
Ultimately, the primary goal of an educational institution is for students to develop the skills and broadly based cultural strengths that they will need for a successful future. In Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track, Russell Ackoff writes the primary objective of education: to enable students to develop and be able to contribute to the development of the society of which they are part. I also believe that teachers should strive for self-development—again, a growth mindset. Ackoff suggests Anyone who has no desire to learn should have no involvement in the learning of others. Thus it is the job of those in leadership to cultivate this essential backbone—strong learning for students, teachers, and other administrators.
I’ve been involved in education for over a decade, first as an “IT guy,” and now as an educator. I’ve witnessed the school worlds of teaching and learning experience change at a rapid pace; emerging pedagogical practices including design thinking, project based learning, game based learning, flipped classrooms, social media in practice and many more that transform the daily lives of students and teachers more quickly than anyone ever thought possible.
A collective, democratic approach, to school leadership is what I consider to be the most effective. In Schools That Learn, Peter Senge writes Through such techniques as dialogue and skillful discussion, small groups of people transform their collective thinking, learning to mobilize their energies and actions to achieve common goals and draw forth an intelligence and ability greater than the sum of individual members’ talents. As a result, through this approach—knowledge, accountability, and responsibility all become distributed amongst a group of leaders. This type of collaborative work allows schools to identify both problems and solutions while simultaneously establishing opportunities for growth.
Another critical skill of those in leadership is that of active listening—to faculty, staff, administrators, and, perhaps most importantly, students. Immersion into the experiences of the community as a whole allows leaders to develop the sense of empathy that will ultimately help bring about a deep sense of understanding, new perspectives and true insights. Moreover, I believe that spending time in the classroom is necessary of any school leader, otherwise it becomes difficult to fully empathize with students and teachers.
Along with internal changes and growth, external influences can play a significant role in direction of a school. As a leader it is important to learn from the accomplishments and innovations of other schools, to examine how these successes were achieved and to then collaborate with team members towards implementation. Ultimately, the success of any school hinges on its leadership. From my experience, I’ve learned that the most effective leaders in education make decisions based on action, collaboration and empathy, while always ensuring that student success is at the forefront of every decision that they make.