The journey has not had a smooth beginning; it has included some starts and stops and detours. I originally thought I would end up being an assistant principal, yet every time that door opened, it was closed and I was beginning to wonder what was going to happen (and if I had just blown a huge chunk of change LOL).
But last week I got an opportunity to go a totally different route, which excited me, but it was hard to let go of the assistant principal idea too. Over the last few days though, with a final detour and course correction, I have let go of being an assistant principal and am moving toward a new direction of coaching and working with teachers as a learning facilitator with my district’s secondary science department. I have left my classroom (bittersweet as that is) and am now super excited about this new chance to work with teachers. So starting in August, I will not be a high school Aquatics teacher, but a learning facilitator for 8 amazing secondary schools. I will get to help plan curriculum, develop learning opportunities and meet awesome teachers. I can’t wait.
A wonderful mentor told me that I may not understand why something was happening until looking back on it, and this feels like that sort of adventure. So, I am really looking forward to being able to look back in a few years and say “Wow, I am so glad I became a facilitator and not an AP because if _____ then ____ would never have happened—and I met awesome people along the way.”
Let’s get this unexpected adventure on the way.
Create a Community
As I wrap up my Masters, the question I keep getting asked is: What are you going to do with it? A valid and important question! LOL
A few months ago, I wrote a short phrase: “I want to gather information and share it… talk about and share energy in collaborations–create a community”
Today, I revised it ever so slightly:
What would make me happy:
I want to gather information about the best stuff and then talk about it and share energy in collaborations–create a community of excited learners!
This is what I am going to do with my Masters! Create a community of excited learners.
Relationships: Our Reason to Continue
Many lucky teachers experience an amazing leader each day—and some wish for an exceptional leader each day. Exceptional leaders share many characteristics, but the most comprehensive one might be building relationships—with students, teachers and the community. Relationships are what bring us back to work each day—they help us continue on the bad days and rejoice on the good day.
One of the nationally recognized leaders in Texas was brought to my attention by an AP attending TCEA a few years ago. He returned from the conference raving about the speech by this young principal and how inspirational he was. At the time, it was this principal’s first year on the job, but in the ensuing years, he has published a book, Kids Deserve It, and amassed quite a Twitter following on @TechNingaTodd. His message connects and inspires and is universally recognized by fellow educators as heartfelt and genuine. But what are the underlying patterns that are so recognizable? The ones that make his staff want to continue—to come back and improve each day? Later on, I go through some of the skills I believe make up similarly great leaders, but before that, you can check out some of the ways Mr. Nesloney has earned well-deserved kudos as he inspires his community and school at http://home.edweb.net/kids-deserve-it/ (or his website http://www.toddnesloney.com/) and see if you see the patterns for yourself.
If a school is not lucky enough to have a Tech Ninja as their principal, never fear, maybe the next principal warrior is in training, perfecting the art of building strong relationships, and is on the way to do battle for kids and teachers. A passionate approach to building relationships is essential for our students and communities. We need more leaders to bring a heartfelt yet skillful approach to relationship building, making this just as important as content.
Great leaders exhibit wide-ranging skills—like simple respect and trust, and complex ones, like resiliency or consistent zen-like calm—weaving them together into a narrative that says, keep going, make it work. These inspiring leaders often utilize the following specific skills as and when needed:
- Demonstrate personal integrity (follow through): It is the responsibility of the person with more power in the relationship—the administrator—to set the stage for trust and follow through on verbal or written commitments.
- Show care (build goodwill): Take personal interest in your staff and be visible and accessible in your office and in the hallways. Use the good days to find the happy moments that get stored to counteract the down days.
- Celebrate experimentation, support risk, and involve staff in decision-making: Give teachers room to try new things and empower teacher participation by asking for input when decisions must be made.
- Build respect and trust yet express value for dissenting views: Being able to express concerns and disagreement without fear of reprisal is essential for long-term relationships in which conflict is sure to arise. Regarding conflict as potentially constructive allows the settling of differences in win-win ways—teachers feel more secure in providing honest input and participate in meaningful decision-making with positivity. In environments in which teachers feel unsupported, mistrusted, or constantly on the verge of reprimand, trust between teachers and administrators is unlikely to improve. A compounding factor such as a principal’s perceived incompetence may negatively impact trust. If a principal means well but lacks necessary skills, he or she is less likely to be trusted over time.
- Rebuild broken trust—both publicly and privately: Don’t pigeonhole teachers based on negative experiences. People can change—determine common ground between teachers’ concerns and needs of students. Offer private forums for those who may appear to be public saboteurs; invite them to talk in a respectful, private conversation to discern the problem and reach solution.
- Admit mistakes and validate teacher uncertainty: Acknowledge your own uncertainty and use it as an opportunity to learn in an open dialog—even if, maybe especially if—you are the boss. Teachers need to know it is okay for them to make mistakes. Teachers who feel safe and supported learn from failure and apply this in the future.
- Ensure that teachers have basic resources—period.
Even as the educational landscape changes, teachers and administrators need to commit to valuing character and imperfect relationships over perfection and honesty over complacency in an effort to strengthen our schools. This commitment starts with leaders who practice the essential skills of great leaders, inspiring us all to continue caring for our kids and each other.
What is your reason to keep going?
It is easier to build strong relationships than to repair a betrayed trust or broken promises.
List of skills adapted from http://educationnorthwest.org/sites/default/files/trust.pdf and other sources:
At the heart of everything, a purpose clarifies our values and other guiding directives. As Simon Sinek states, “Start with Why.” This image really connects all the aspects of purpose or why we might choose to do something. What is your purpose?
Presenting leadership as a list of carefully defined qualities (like strategic, analytical, and performance-oriented) no longer holds. Instead, true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed… – Sheryl Sandberg
The journey to earning my administrative certification has led to much self-reflection about leadership styles and a few patterns emerged over time. My conclusion was that administrators can be competent yet unsuccessful if they fail to build a culture that supports the people within the system. The most successful administrators are skilled yet authentic–they interact with heart and build relationships that last while they focus on content and tasks. This success can be measured, among many other factors, by a loyal staff, who are willing to go the extra mile for students, and a happy community that goes the extra mile to be involved. Leadership is defined differently for each person, but from personal perspective and experience:
Authentic leaders cultivate their unique, sometimes imperfect, perspective and recognize this is true for those with whom they interact. Reflection on how to honor differences and successfully blend many different viewpoints requires leaders to take responsibility for creating respectful discourse and fostering trust. Administrators who build such levels of trust and support form a solid foundation for the whole school system, creating the potential for connections and learning to happen at all levels.
Leaders facilitate such connections by showing patience, enthusiasm, wisdom and supporting the hopes and visions of the many, yet still making room for the individual. Hope and positivity grown through a leader’s focus on authenticity not perfection, integrity not pacification, and growth not complacency help weave together a strong school community in which staff and students value innovation, skills, and most important, relationships that last a lifetime.
For 2017, my action plan will be to similarly challenge my “imperfectly expressed” self to be not only competent but also authentic. This blog will serve as a resource and record of my thoughts and more as I conclude this certification journey. Feel free to comment or leave links to resources you found to be helpful.