Part 1 of 4
In my last post, I listed 12 essentials of leadership and now I'll explain in a little more detail what I think about these twelve ideas.
1. Articulate a Clear Purpose and Compelling Vision
Much has been written about the need for vision and purpose and I'm convinced that these two things need to be established and consistently out in front of school work. Vision statements can be useful, although I've seen few examples of vision statements or mission statements that continue to affect the daily work of schools once developed. I have tried to keep the purpose of school in front of my teachers in a variety of ways. One is simple, the other is a little more complex. First the simple one.
Results in literacy and math must be our primary reason for existence. - Although it's true that there is a lot more to education than these two areas of study, you can't do the many other educational endeavors very well unless students master literacy and numeracy to a very high level. Therefore, we set ambitious goals to raise our student's achievement in these areas and focus our staff development primarily on literacy and secondarily on math.
The other aspect of purpose and vision that I present to my teachers is an attempt to answer the question - Why? Why should kids be literate? What is the purpose of education? The goal is to tap into the teacher's sense of calling and remind them that the work we are doing is truly life changing. I am always looking for stories of teachers who have changed a child's life and they're not hard to find. I'm also looking for historical, national, and international events that underscore the benefits of education in communities and the pitfalls in societies where education and children have been neglected. The goal is to remind teachers that while they are busy sorting through the latest formative assessments, dealing with student tantrums, parent complaints (or vice versa), and Principal pressures, the end result of their work will have an enormous impact on children, society, the world, and future generations. I can't emphasize frequently enough the power teachers have to make a difference.
As my dissertation was a case study on High School Principals who were both visionary and practical I have done a lot of thinking about how to accomplish a shared vision. My approach is to become a student of the school culture first, before working to create a collaborative sense of where we all need to go. The reason that there is no blueprint on achieving this is that the unique circumstances and personnel at every school demand a different approach to building that critical future focus. Eventually, I believe the vision of where the school needs to go naturally emerges when staff are working together toward common goals which leads to...
2. Go Team! Build Collaborative Teams
The bottom line is that the most effective decisions and learning will take place in collaborative teams of professionals. The collective wisdom of just about any group is greater that the individual. Leaders need to find a way to provide the time, training, and support for teachers to have time to collaborate with their colleagues. It's important to make the outcomes clear for these meetings and I'm finding that I need to model the process of collaboration more effectively in the coming year as everyone has a different idea of what collaboration looks like. One book that has assisted me in this area is Building Teams, Building People by Tom Harvey. More on modeling a little later.
3. Embrace the Numbers and Squeeze 'em for all they're worth.
We have embraced data, sometimes quite clumsily and without effect, but we are constantly learning how to access, analyze, and interpret data to provide sounder instructional practices throughout our school. It's not always easy to confront the brutal facts, but as we have come to dig deep even when it hurts, we are finding that there are few obstacles that can't be overcome with our best thinking and focused attention. This is an area that begs for the use of technology to make our life easier. We have implemented some technologies to sort through data, but are always on the look out for tools that will do the work of collecting, sorting, and displaying data so we can concentrate on the thinking that is needed to making better decisions. Mike Schmoker has had several resources that have affected my thinking in this area including Results: The Key to Continuous School Improvement and the Results Fieldbook: Practical Strategies from Dramatically Improved Schools and I think I'm going to have to get my hands on Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching And Learning since I've already skimmed quite a bit while browsing in the book store.