Having worked as a publisher in educational leadership for over 20 years, I am frequently in awe at the difficulty and scope of a school leader’s work. Policies from the federal and state levels push down from the top while pressures from parents, teachers, and students pull the bottom up, creating a pretty narrow window of action and influence for leaders.
So, how can a school leader stay sane, maintain focus on learning, and create a school environment that is positive? From my observations, and from the good fortune to work with so many leadership experts, there are a few fairly straightforward and time saving steps any leader can take to build success:
- Practice Mindfulness. A few years ago, I barely knew what mindfulness was. Now, I have seen more and more research that shows how school leaders and the whole school community can benefit from the intentional cultivation of moment-by-moment, non-judgmental and focused awareness. Practicing mindfulness can help a leader notice surroundings more and avoid damaging snap decisions, respond more thoughtfully to complex issues, be more creative and, simply, live a more balanced life. As Stephen Covey wrote, make sure you “Sharpen the Saw.”
- Pay close attention to Student and Teacher Voice. Many people say they listen, but few listen closely and follow through with fidelity. In my work with Russ Quaglia and Mickey Corso, I found that many students don’t believe teachers or leaders know their names or care whether they are in school. How can that be? Sure, it may be their perspective, but they have THAT perspective. Listening and acting on the responses is so critical to building a positive, engaged school environment that will grow student aspirations, improve learning and graduation rates, and retain staff.
- Develop an open and inclusive communication style. This sounds basic and it is, but there are so many parts to the process that leaders seem to ignore. I view communication broadly as: Being active and visible in your school. Become engaged daily with the whole school community and talk to everyone to encourage and support their hopes and dreams. Use tools that are readily available to reach out to the community, parents, students, and teachers. It’s still shocking how seldom school leaders use all of their assets and tools, especially technology, to tell the great stories of their schools, kids and staff.
Learn the programs and apps that will help you get the word out and ask for help when you need it. While ‘Branding’ may seem like a business term, telling your school story to better effect is in your hands as a leader. Don’t ignore it!
- Build your own support network. Ask for help or coaching when needed. You don’t have to feel isolated…ever. Your colleague in the next school, the next town, the next state over is feeling the same pressures.
This brief list is certainly not complete, but I think everything here can be done quite readily and effectively. I would be delighted to hear any responses or other recommendations.
Resources from Corwin:
The Mindful School Leader by Valerie Brown and Kirsten Olson
Student Voice by Russ Quaglia and Mickey Corso
Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger
The Power of Branding by Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo
Flipping Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel by Peter DeWitt
Leadership Coaching for Educators by Karla Reiss