Leading for Growth

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Great leaders don’t spend time trying to change people. They spend their energy creating the conditions in which people want to change. Discussions move beyond “why” as educators begin thinking and planning for “how” and “when.” Don’t misunderstand, it’s important to explain to your teachers the reasons you do what you do. In fact, I believe if you ever want to have any influence among your teachers, answering “why” is the most critical question you’ll ever address. However, the next step is spending much energy creating a climate in which teachers strive to move beyond “why.”

Change begins with a culture where everyone is elevated to the status of learner. – Sarah Brown Wessling

If the students are the only ones learning within the school walls, there’s a problem. Developing a practice that is different from what teachers themselves experienced as students requires learning opportunities for teachers that are more powerful than simply reading and talking about new pedagogical ideas (Ball and Cohen, in press). As leaders, we must recognize what our teachers want to learn, as well as, what they need to learn. Then, make an effort to spark their curiosity. We must keep teachers in their uncomfort zone by asking the right questions and wanting to hear their answers. “How” and “why” and “what if” questions will stretch the boundaries of their minds. We should embed time for teachers to develop new knowledge and on the job learning opportunities. We must urge teachers to take the time to practice what they learn. Knowledge is power only when we use it. Teachers learn best by thinking, researching, doing, and reflecting; by collaborating with other teachers; by looking closely at students and their work; and by sharing what they discover.

Students take risks when teachers take risks. Teachers take risks when school leaders take risks.” – Brad Currie

Margie Warrell, bestselling author of Stop Playing Safe and Find Your Courage writes, “Only when leaders demonstrate the courage they wish to see in those around them will they be able to unleash the human potential within their teams and organization, tap ingenuity, raise the bar on innovation and optimize the value their organization contributes to all of it’s stakeholders.”

As a leader, do you have a passion for stretching yourself, taking risks, and believe wholeheartedly that your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work? Modeling and fostering this type of mindset can create a culture where teachers actively challenge the status quo thinking and begin pushing the boundaries of their own minds.

Being in the classroom when a teacher tries a new strategy for the first time is a great way to support and assist teachers. A positive experience can lead to more frequent risk taking. Be sure to commend good mistakes when risks are taken, mistakes are made, and lessons are learned.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman

If your goal is to create an environment in which teachers are teaching differently than the year before, be sure to intentionally look for opportunities to provide genuine praise. If you observe an act worthy of praising, do so promptly. Be sure to make your genuine words memorable and specific about the achievement. “Good job” is forgettable, however, “I was impressed the way you incorporated quality instruction and formative assessment simultaneously,” will cause a teacher to think cognitively and deeply about their own practice and may stick with an educator for a lifetime. Just remember, the praise does not have to be elaborate, it just needs to be genuine and timely.

A strong leader is able to inspire, energize, and enthusiastically bring others to high levels of effort and performance. Before long, your school will be thriving, other school districts will be visiting, newspaper articles will be written, and teachers and students will be recognized and acknowledged. As a leader, serve hard in the trenches and then be proud from the cheap seats.

“It’s unreasonable to ask a professional to change much more than 10% a year, but it’s unprofessional to change by much less than 10% a year.” – Steven Leinwand

Rather than always focusing on “change”, great leaders unleash a laser-like focus on improving, growing, reflecting, and sharing. As a result, teachers and leaders have a high assurance in their capabilities and approach new ideas and strategies as challenges to be mastered. They embrace change and more importantly, they grow professionally.

Something to think about, Shawn

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