Saturday, December 31, 2016

Leadership: Are You Leading With Actions or Words?

The Power of Reflection
Leaders are often tasked with evaluating situations, perspectives, people, etc. Leaders look outward to see progress towards goals, to determine to what extent collaboration is happening, and to assess how well a strategy is executed or implemented. That's why it's important for leaders to look inward first. Reflection starts with looking inside and taking an honest and personal assessment of your efforts.  Reflection isn't simply thinking about the past. It's digging deep into the core of who you are as a leader, how you have lead others, and whether or not your leadership has been effective. Reflection isn't about  how well you've taken charge either. Great leaders understand that positional power is an absolute, last resort. They are skilled at using the power of reflection to spur personal improvement and action. They are self motivated because they take the time to think about how to get better, and not just to review what else needs to be done. Reflection moves us from task masters to critical thinkers. We think more about how to go about the work to produce a desired effect. Leaders who struggle with reflection move along the checklist, checking off what has been done, and highlighting what's left to be completed. That's not reflection. That's a review. Don't confuse the two. They are quite different.

Leaders Go First  
When a shift in culture needs to happen, the leader does not wait for the rest of the members of the organization to shift. Instead, great leaders understand that they can model the shift they desire. Simply verbalizing the expectation of how folks should interact and behave isn't enough. This means when a leader recognizes that his or her attitude or actions hasn't met the bar, they admit it. They admit it by making it clear and transparent. Reflection, when done well, can serve as a catalyst for changing behavior. Changing others isn't really possible. Leaders influence others, impact others, but individual change is personal. Change only happens when one makes a conscious decision to do so. That conscious decision is often the result of deep reflection. Above all, when the leader sees that something is not going well, he or she looks in the mirror first. Great leaders resist the urge to look outward to find blame in an initial assessment. Great leaders check themselves first, taking an honest assessment of what they have done or have failed to do. Reflection, in its' truest form only happens when one looks in the mirror first. Leaders who go first lead with their actions, followed by their words. They believe in showing more than telling.

Leadership Challenge
Continuous improvement isn't simply a mindset to be adopted by organizations who want to make sure their school, district, or company is always working to get better. It's a concept to be adopted by individuals who wish to lead, regardless of position or title. Reflection is the mental exercise of figuring out how one can improve to reach his or her maximum potential. The challenge is to resist the urge to look outwardly first. So often when things aren't going well or the way we desire, our tendency is to look at those around us. I reject that tendency. I believe that when we look at ourselves first, we not only model powerful reflection for others, but we commit to the idea that everyday we have an opportunity to get better, to improve our craft, to sharpen our expertise and skills. My challenge to leaders is simple. Have you taken a look in the mirror lately? Are you spending time thinking about how you get better at being the leader versus thinking about how others need to improve? If not, I challenge you to do just that. Take a look in the mirror and reflect!

Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Power & Pressure of the Principalship: Why Principals Need Support Now!

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“With great power, comes great responsibility.”
-Uncle Ben in Spiderman

Being a principal isn’t easy, and I’m not so sure it’s supposed to be that way. It’s a tough job. As principal, you have the power to improve the educational experience of students, instructional practices of teachers, and build a strong culture of trust among parents. If you work it right, they say, you can accomplish something amazing.  Principals must be master mind readers, noting each teacher’s particular strengths and opportunities for growth. Principals must know their students, in both academic and social emotional fashion, and must be skilled at developing partnerships with parents to help students reach their maximum potential. Principals are tasked with creating a culture of collaboration, where each and every person feels valued, although they have little control of anyone’s actions. While principals may administer consequences or extend rewards and/or recognition for a particular action, the ultimate decision regarding how one acts or behaves, rest within each individual. Principals work to earn the power and permission to influence others, not control them. Principals are tasked with being familiar with a variety of content, pedagogy, instructional methods, all the while ensuring they have a firm handle on the budget, maintenance and operations, transportation logistics, personnel protocol, professional development, and board policies. Principals must support teachers, students, and parents in their efforts, but here’s a question: Who supports principals? Furthermore, how are principals supported? Beyond the monthly meeting and annual conference, what structures are in place to create that same culture of collaboration that is so beneficial to teachers and students, for principals? When principals need support where do they turn? 

For far too long, principals have been left out of the conversation regarding the benefits of collaborative communities of learners for teachers and for students. Principals, too, need collaborative communities with their peers, to work through problems of practice, to develop intelligent solutions to the challenges they face, and quite frankly to last in the principalship. In recent weeks, I’ve read a great deal regarding the principal shortage. Many states and districts are focused on strategies to replenish the principal pipeline, but who helps you stay there once you make the rank of principal? As a former principal, I can attest to the feelings of isolation, pressure, and stress that accompany the principalship. While a monthly principals’ meeting might provide a venue for a common meeting place, it doesn't serve the purpose of support. In a recent tweet, I asked principals to share with me what would give them the support they so desperately need. As I presumed, they noted the following:
  1. A listener who understands the complexity of the job. While the first and foremost task is teaching and learning, so very often other factors (meeting basic needs of students, working through a personal crisis with a staff member, budgetary or operational issues) consume a great deal of time.
  2. A coach who uses an assets based approach to coach them. It takes more than a review of school data and a set of goals to help principals meet the mark of academic achievement, but so often, to use a sports analogy, we cite last season’s record, state the goal for this season, and tell principals “Play ball!”. Occasionally, we cheer them on, but that’s usually at the end of the game, better known as testing season! 
  3. A superior who recognizes the things that are working well, as well as the opportunities for growth. Monthly principal meetings ought to be more than problem listing sessions. Principals need time with their peers to work through problems of practice. Additionally, principals need to be coached on what they can do to develop their skills, sharpen their weaknesses, etc. and that must go beyond talking to another principals at a meeting or shadowing someone else for a day.
  4. A structured and routine practice to ensure consistent opportunities for collaboration with job alike peers. We know professional learning communities serve as powerful platforms for teachers to improve their practice. Principals, too, need a job embedded opportunity to participate in a professional learning community that meets their needs.
  5. A focus on principal wellness, with professional development on stress management. As a former principal, I began a journey of fitness purely out of a grave need to manage stress, improve my sleep patterns, and reduce anxiety. It took me years in the principalship to recognize that I needed to be intentional about managing my stress levels so that I could bring my very best self to the job each day.

While the responsibility of the principalship is great, so is the pressure. Principals face a constant pressure to improve teacher practice, student learning, school community relations, and last but certainly not least, themselves. If principals aren’t provided with the support they need, what should be their power, often becomes pressure. In the age of high stakes testing, increased accountability, along with a push to be innovative in the ways we teach and that students learn, it is not difficult to see how a principal’s potential power can easily becomes a persistent pressure. District leaders have a responsibility to support principals in the same manner and fashion that they support the work of teachers and the educational experiences of students. Principals must not be left to fend for themselves, when we know collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking are essential to the educational experience. If we know those elements are working for students and teachers, why aren’t we making it our business to create routine opportunities for principals in the same manner? Principals are the heart of school leadership and they need your support now! I dare you to do something different!

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!