Monday, August 3, 2009

So You Want to Lead Effectively?

Before holding my current position as a Technology Integration Specialist, I taught middle school math for nine years. During that time, I also served as a grade level team leader and math department chairperson. I was a respected member of the Leadership Team by virtue of being a team leader and department chair. While I held those positions, I never really reflected much upon my leadership style or philosophy. I just took it for granted, “I had what it takes” to fulfill the job responsibilities entrusted to me. We might call it leadership “savvy.” The principal saw something in me that led him to believe that I was the best person for these jobs and I was not going to let him down.

I had a good rapport with the majority of the people I worked with and for the most part everyone did what they were supposed to. I think my organizational skills and attention to details served me well as department chair and team leader. I knew from year to year inside and out what my team and department and I were expected to carry out and accomplish. I was good at it. As I look back now, it’s clear to me that there was very little collaboration or engagement with all constituents. The principal, who was primarily driven by test scores and school accreditation, ran a tight ship. He was in charge. No one dared to rock the boat. It was his way or the high way. He told me what needed to be done and I did it. I told my team and department what needed to be done and they did it. It was rarely up for discussion. It was very top-down leadership, like the pyramid model.

Clearly the leadership landscape has changed, (how did I miss it?), and my narrow vision based on my very limited experience of an allegedly good leader has been blown out of the water! After so much reading, reflecting, discussing, and deliberating the contemporary leadership theories and models during the past three weeks, I see now the lamb taking precedence over the lion, unheroes eclipsing heroes, and PEOPLE ranking higher than policies, procedures, processes, and physical plants. Nowadays, when you lead a school, organization and detail management will only get you so far. It’s more about serving and transforming leadership, gathering at tables and guiding from the side, swimming upstream and respecting those you wish to silence. No one is on the mountaintop calling all the shots. The mountaintop is where we’re going, propelled by vision and passion, collaboration and shared leadership, synergy and the pursuit of excellence. That is where we’re going to experience and celebrate the success of all students! To get there, we need leaders who are effective:

E - Egos left at the door; servant model
F - Focus on the prize, i.e., promoting the success of every student.
F - Form alliances with all stakeholders.
E - Emotional management: take care of self
C - Collaborate and problem solve
T - Trust and integrity; talk the talk AND walk the walk
I – Improvement of student learning is the foremost idea
V - Vitality and Passion; inspire them to follow you
E – Envision success and demand excellence

If I had to write a definition of an effective leader before I started this course, I probably would have emphasized the organizational and managerial aspects of leading with a hierarchical bent. "Old school" leadership, that is what I knew; that’s what I had experienced for most of my teaching career. And the gentleman who was leading that way was held in high regard, touted as “one of our best.” That may have worked then, but it will not work now. In summary, I believe that a successful principal today must (1) be willing to serve students, staff, and the community, (2) be willing to stop, listen, and rethink, (3) be open to change and new ideas, and (4) believe passionately that students can succeed and that teachers can help make that happen.

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