At a recent conference, I listened to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for Oklahoma, Joy Hofmeister, address a group of principals. She was very open and transparent about some of the struggles that educators would have to deal with in the state, but she didn’t sound like a politician at all. She was straight up with her responses, and was clear that there was a lot of work ahead. There was no sugar coating in her answers, but she also talked in a way that made people feel like the challenges ahead were not going to be impossible to deal with.
What she did next blew me away. She talked about how the administrators in the room and her would have to work together to solve these problems (which I have heard before), but she backed up by doing the following; she gave them all her mobile phone number to contact her if they needed help.
My jaw hit the floor.
I talked about this with NASSP President Michael Allison, and he had shared that he would do the same thing as a high school principal with his students and families. He would give out his phone number to all of the students and families, and encouraged them to contact him if they needed help. He had also said that people cautioned about doing this, he never had one student use his number in an inappropriate way.
As I listened to these stories with amazement, I then started to think, “Why is this surprising?” Why are we so often surprised when people do something in leadership that they should be doing in the first place? Why are we surprised when leaders don’t just talk about servant leadership, but model it?
Yesterday, I shared an article titled, “What If Our Teacher Shortage Is Actually a Leadership Shortage?” In it, the author shares the following:
“If we can bring best-in-class leadership and management practices to education, we can create schools and school systems where our nation’s most talented, diverse professionals clamor to work now and for decades to come.
Teachers have demanding, complicated jobs. Their bosses, and their bosses’ bosses, must be especially skilled and savvy to successfully support them to excel in their work, help them grow professionally, and keep them in the classroom long-term.”
Through the last few years, I have noticed how truly crucial leadership is for teaching and learning. Bad leadership either leads to good teachers becoming weaker, or leaving. Great leaders get more out of others than what they even expected. I have heard administrators complain that certain technologies or initiatives are just not working for staff, yet rarely take responsibility that ample meaningful professional learning was not provided. Bad leaders point fingers; great leaders take responsibility.
We need to get to a place where great leadership is not a surprise, but the norm. This will be one of the best ways to develop schools that our students are excited to go to every morning because of the opportunities they see in front of them. My best advice? Keep doing the (positive) unexpected until it becomes the norm for others leaders. Be the leader you would want, not necessarily the one(s) you have experienced.