I have a style issue. No, I’m not walking around wearing my 1980’s acid washed jeans or rugby pants…(oh the good old days…)
The “style” issue I am referring to has to do with leadership.
To be blunt – I don’t think I have a leadership style.
Instead, what I have come to see are some personal attitudes that have sustained me throughout my time in school administration.
Upon reflection, here are a few of the attitudes that have helped me along the way:
I trust therefore I lead.
Trust has been the currency that has allowed me to be effective as an administrator. The more trust I give away – the more I seem to get in return. More than simply waiting to trust, I have often sought out opportunities to trust – whether it be with colleagues or students. The results? I have been blessed in my career to work with people who have responded to my trust with support, integrity and an inspiring ethic of care. Coincidentally, as parent I am realizing that one of the important gifts I can give my children is my trust!
Ripple Effect of Respect
In the context of school leadership, I realize that how I behave is more important than what I say. Modelling respectful interactions, a calm demeanor, and genuine ethic of care have been, and will continue to be a “non-negotiable”. The idea is to send a ripple effect of respect throughout the school community.
I’m am…sorry, unsure, wrong, scared, concerned
Being vulnerable and naming my own feelings has been a game changer. For example, if we say that we learn from our mistakes, we must also own our mistakes in a real and transparent way.
“Walk a mile in their shoes”
As teacher, to be most effective, I need to be deeply empathetic to individual students. As an administrator, I feel like I need to maintain this attitude towards students AND teachers. For example, I need to be mindful that I don’t keep on “adding” to teachers “must do” without considering what needs to be taken away. One simple and important way to do this, is to “walk a mile in their shoes”. Being an “Embedded Principal” has been helpful in this regard.
“You” before the “it”
This is closely related to the attitude above. This is about putting people before policies or systems. I have learned that I need to be present to the person I am interacting with. I need to see and respect the person before I see the policy. In the end, the person may disagree with my decision, but they will you always know that they are respected and will fully understand the “why” behind the decision.
It is probably not a healthy thing, but I am one of those people who feels a perpetual sense of anxiousness about “missing” learning opportunities that will make me, students or teachers better. I feel a certain restlessness when it comes to learning, schools and education. Interestingly enough, John Hattie’s research compares the impact that instructional leadership and transformational leadership has on student learning. Surprisingly (or not), Hattie’s research tips the scales towards the idea of instructional leadership. My experience not only confirms this, but also tells me that I have a better chance of becoming a transformational leader if I am a restless learner in my community.
“Just Let Go”
This is all about me letting go. Give up control and gain personal engagement and ownership . Of course this is the antithesis of micromanaging – which invariably leads to apathy, boredom and risk aversion. Said another way – I have found that I need to trust, let go and empower others to do what they need to do.
This attitude reminds me of a scene in the movie Finding Nemo when Marlin is clinging on to Dory, inside the mouth of a whale – about to be swallowed. Dory is demanding to be “let go”. Marlin yells: “but how do you know that something bad isn’t going to happen?” To which Dory replies “I DON’T“
“It’s not about me”
Some may call this – being rooted in the “why”. It’s not “my” school or “my” school system. I need to remind myself that my job is to bring the community to an agreed upon destination – rooted in values, mission and vision. This is where I constantly remind myself to check my personal agenda, desires and ego at the door.
It’s not my issue
The job demands that I make decisions using my best judgement. Certain issues demand that I skate into the puck. I’ve also come to understand that some of my best decisions are the ones I don’t make. Not all issues are my issues. Knowing the difference has been critical to my leadership. Despite my sincerest desire to intervene in any and all situations that arise in a school, sometimes I need to step back and let others step up.
“It’s only school”
This may sound like I am trivializing or demeaning my work – but that is not my intent. I love and am passionate about my job.
Sometimes, however, we do take ourselves too seriously. For example when dealing with students we need to remember that they are- well – kids. They are growing up. They’re supposed to make mistakes. All they really want is to be accepted for who they are, to find personal fulfillment, to be trusted and to have some fun and excitement while figuring it out.
When we consistently take ourselves too seriously we lose perspective of who we are actually serving – which ultimately leads to decisions, policies and systems that don’t respect kids for who they are and where they are at any given moment.
I’m still figuring it out and invite you to share your thoughts and reactions.