Friday, May 30, 2014

20 Things I Would Do If I Were a School Leader

Recently, I came across a blog post by Sean Hampton Cole entitled "20 Things I Would Do if I Were a High School Principal." Since undertaking my educational leadership degree, I've kept a journal with thoughts and ideas about what kind of school leader I might become. I predict that once I become a school leader, I may be so overwhelmed with day-to-day duties that I might forget what I envisioned for myself. So, here's my organized and optimistic list of the first 20 things I'd like to accomplish as a school leader.

1. Flatten the hierarchy. With shared leadership, teachers will help make decisions regarding aspects of school culture. This will motivate teachers to be responsible for their learning and performance, which will positively impact student learning. Daniel Pink's work with motivation is a great starting point.

2. Recruit, hire, and retain the absolute best teachers and staff. During my educational leadership internship with Vic Wilson, I learned to offer outstanding teachers the opportunity to teach by asking, "What could I do to make it impossible for an amazing teacher to say no to working in my school?" I will do whatever I can to attract, employ, and preserve superstar teachers. Teachers make the difference, positively or negatively.

3. Provide autonomy and support. As said by Theodore Roosevelt, "The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it." After hiring the best teachers, let them do their job and back them up. Don't micromanage superstar teachers, but trust that they have done what's best for their students when questioned by parents. 

4. Respect teachers' time. Minimize the number of faculty meetings. Handle business via committees, email, or creative means when possible. When meetings are required, use an agenda and stick to it. Never go over the allotted meeting time.

My family 
5. Value family commitments. Be familiar with the lives of every teacher and staff member. Family comes first. Period.

6. Praise publicly and criticize privately. Provide sincere and worthy praise in front of peers and when constructive feedback is necessary, think about the delivery. What method of delivery will help change the behavior of the teacher? Also, it's important to not make a general mandate to all for the benefit of one teacher. 

7. Differentiate professional development. Teachers need different ways of learning various concepts, just like students. Teachers should determine their own needs, while I encourage participation in their PLNs. All teachers should have the same opportunities to learn relevant and engaging ideas that will move their teaching forward.

8. Be a lifelong learner. As said by John F. Kennedy, "Leadership and learning are indispensable of each other." I'll continue to learn and grow as a leader by being part of professional organizations and sharing what I learn with others. As an assistant principal, I will learn from from the experience and wisdom of the principal.

9. Take feedback and reflect. Just as we expect our students and teachers to be open and responsive to feedback, I will utilize feedback to grow as a leader. With learning and growth, mistakes will be made. I won't forget to apologize. Bruce Lee said, "Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them."

10. Be an example and inspire others. Jerry McClain said, "The best example of leadership is leadership by example." I'll never ask teachers to do what I won't do myself and will offer opportunities for leadership to inspire others to realize their potential.

11. Employ a servant mindset. Another thing I learned in my educational leadership internship was the essential job for a school leader - to facilitate learning. When a teacher, student, or parent has a problem or an idea, always ask, "What can I do to help you?" The school leader should make learning possible. Max Dupree said, "The first act of leadership is courage. The last act is to say 'Thank You.' In between, the leader is a servant."

12. Welcome change. But, don't push too hard. When thinking about making change, I need to assess whether the change is worth the results and remember the words of Dolly Parton - "The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." Do a few showers outweigh the promise of a better tomorrow?

Perspective is everything.
13. Utilize various frames of leadership. Take time to look at situations from multiple perspectives using Bolman and Deal's four frames of leadership. Their book Reframing the Path to School Leadership is a great approach to show how the frames can be utilized in real school situations.

14. Be visible. I will help with carpool, eat in the lunchroom, and visit classrooms daily, even for a few minutes. Michael Smith wrote that the secret to being a great principal is walking around. He recounts a great story of a leader who was not visible. No office days or hours will also be part of my leadership repertoire. I will continue to teach.

15. Be proactive with public relations. Share accomplishments with parents and the community. Be active within the community and communicate with local organizations. Utilize social media, like I am currently with my school's Facebook page, as well as traditional print media. 

16. Communicate with parents early and often. Make positive connections with all parents. We all want the best for the students. Our differences are only differences in opinion on how to make that happen. If I know a parent may be angry, I'll call first and not avoid conflict. In addition, utilize the Friday five as described by Chris Wejr

17. Put students at the heart of everything. They're the reason why we do what we do. 

18. Make relationships a priority. School faculties and staff are a family. We help each other. We trust each other. There is healthy conflict. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people."

19. Don't work too hard. Eat lunch, exercise, and have fun. Remember, it's all about balance.

20. Dream. I must dedicate time to dream big and develop a vision. As said by Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground."

That's definitely a long and involved to-do list. The challenge will be finding the time and focus to follow through. I guess that's the definition of success as discussed by William Feather: "Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go." And, the grit that's a necessary component of most successful people as presented in Angela Lee Duckworth's TED Talk.

What did I leave off the list that is necessary in an effective school leader?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Top 10 Things I Learned from the “Dusting” of 2014

On January 28, I was one of the thousands of Alabamians stranded at school overnight with students, parents, faculty members, and general citizens during the winter storm. While uncomfortable and inconvenient, I was thankful that my family was never in any danger. My husband made it home safely just as the roads were becoming impassable and my children were stuck with me at school. After the ordeal, I mainly felt exhausted, but also humbled and proud to be part of the noble education profession.

It has been said, “Everyday starts with expectation, but ends with experience. Learn whatever life teaches you.” I definitely learned many things from the crazy “dusting” experience. Here are the top ten.

1. Forgive.

No one can accurately predict Alabama weather, even James Spann. Being angry with meteorologists, school administrators, or community leaders does not improve the current situation. You can only do the best with the hand that you are dealt. Live, learn, and move on.

2. Be prepared.

We should all adhere to the Boy Scout motto. Schools especially need to be ready for emergency situations. Teachers and administrators are seasoned writers of action plans, but we must have the supplies to follow through with those procedures. This is also true for individuals. Do you have an emergency kit in your car?

3. Every minute matters.

As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In the chaos of dismissal, some students were able to make it home, while others that left a few minutes later had to return to school due to impassable roads. Make the most of each moment and take opportunities as they come.
Roger Day Skypes with students

4. Music saves.

On the second day of our extended school stay, one of the nation’s most recognized family entertainers, Roger Day, performed via Skype for our students. It was great fun for the children, who sang and danced along with his well-known songs, and a much-welcomed respite for the teachers, who were wearied from a night of restless sleep. Music truly saved the day.

Faculty, staff, and friends scrape and sand the road
5. Kindness abounds.

Aesop wrote, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” In addition to the impromptu Skype concert with Roger Day, our school was the recipient of many compassionate deeds. Nearby families brought blankets, pillows, cold weather clothing, cookies, and coffee for warmth and comfort. Strangers on ATVs and in 4WD vehicles transported many of our parents to school and our students to their homes. Kind acts also came from colleagues in the form of toothbrushes, Diet Mountain Dew, and phone chargers. Faculty and staff went beyond their prescribed duties by scraping and sanding the road leading to the school and doing whatever needed to be done. It’s the small things that mean so much.

6. Meaningful conversations are essential.

I thought I knew my colleagues, but I surely had no idea what actually drove their character. Spending nearly two days with the same people requires you to delve into their likes and dislikes and what pushes them over the edge. This experience bonded us together as a faculty, because we now understand what makes us individuals. It is worth the time to really listen to what people are saying.

A letter to our principal
7. Kids have all the fun.

During the storm, our primary concern was taking care of our students. We wanted them to be safe, comfortable, and loved. Those were the least of the students’ worries. They were having too much fun on their overnight adventure at school. As parents were arriving to retrieve their children, many students were asking why they had to leave and if their parents could come back later. In the words of Bob Basso, “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.” I hope that means that we were doing it right.

8. School can be scary.

Schools can be a little creepy during the day. At night, they are even more so. As my eyes were opening and closing, I saw shadows moving and heard claws scratching. The students’ sleeping habits added to the mystery. We had sleepwalkers and throw up. Some of our bilingual students were talking in their sleep in their native languages.  The snorting, laughing, and sneezing added to the menacing symphony of sounds. My imagination was running wild. I’m glad I had lots of company!

9. Try new things.

I usually bring my lunch to school, so I’m not accustomed to eating the typical school cafeteria food. On our overnight stay, our cafeteria staff prepared Crispitos. Why have I not tried them before?!? The chicken and chili filled tortillas were one of the highlights of the experience. I must remember the words of Mark Twain, “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”

10. I really love my job.

Sometimes it takes a disaster to encourage gratitude. Through this experience, I was thankful for the safety of my family and the love that we share, but also for my school family and the opportunity to share my passion for music with them. William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” My gratefulness through this experience will inspire greatness in things to come. I am sure.