So much is written and spoken of regarding leaders and leadership that one could become overwhelmed by that mountain of information. We already know so much yet we seem to have a problem translating this wealth and depth of information into a tangible transformation of our workplaces.
In the world of education, a world where I have spent most of my life, both when a child and as an adult, it appears that not everyone is either reading the research or, if they are reading then, not regarding?
It appears to be a topic so many principals, deputy principals, heads of teaching and learning, heads, directors, and/or coordinators of this and that, attend many a conference about, yet we still find many schools not flourishing. What is going on? If intelligent, learned people and they are those things, are listening to speakers, nodding their heads in agreement with the information presented, buying books and signing up for newsletters, then why aren’t our schools becoming the transformed, innovative environments that we all want them to be?
Of course there are those schools, you know, the showcase schools, schools that are leading the way, the schools that other schools want to be like. These examples are great but why are those schools the minority and not the majority? What do they know, and what are they doing, that the rest do not do and are not doing?
Now before we all rush out to sign up for the next conference, buy that book, or plan a visit to one of those schools that might help explain how they did it, we need to pause, take a breath, and ask ourselves some important questions. These questions are not difficult but they will take some time to consider thoughtfully and honestly.
Why do you do what you do?
Why did you decide on a leadership position rather than a class teacher?
Why is improving your school important to you?
Why, if you set the tone and the agenda, are you not one of those showcase schools?
Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why, has the subtitle, How Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. That sounds like something school leaders would want, doesn’t it? Just imagine all your people inspired to take action. What would that look like for you at your school? What would the culture, environment, working relationships look, sound, and feel like, if this was the case? I can already hear you DeBono’s Black Hat people saying, “That is too unrealistic or idealistic.” Or saying, “Schools are not as simple as that.” You do know that DeBono suggests you wear all the hats, not all at the same time of course. So, please take off the black one and try another colour for a change. Much different perspective to have the yellow or red hat on for a moment. And no sneaking that black one underneath…
So using the good old Y-chart, what does that look, sound and feel like?
Please write down what comes to mind.
Take it slowly.
Now let that sit with you as you take an honest look at your reality as opposed to your ideal.
What does it look, sound, and feel like for your staff, your parent/caregiver community, and the broader community of which your school is a connected part?
Most importantly of all, what does that look, sound and feel like for your students? And it doesn’t matter whether your learning environment is a birth to pre-school setting, a primary school, middle school, or high school, or a birth to Year 13 multi-campus facility. It also doesn’t matter if it is single sex or co-ed. What matters most is that it all exists for the children/students.
If your thinking, and therefore the culture and the environment that you influence, does not automatically put them at the very centre of what you are on about then knowing what everyone else is doing will not improve your school. Oh, you can improve it short term by driving your staff with fear and negativity to get test scores up, for example. But teachers know that that has little to do with real learning, real teaching, or a positive, innovative culture. Children end up hating those environments and can’t wait to get out. Many a teacher feels the same.
Don’t forget, the questions are not what or how questions. The questions are why questions. Why questions take you to a deeper place. It was Freidich Nietzsche, who is quoted as saying, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Many teachers know what they do and how they do it. The how and the what can change and teachers continue to teach. This can include the how and what of new technologies, techniques and strategies, neuroscience research, understanding of learning difficulties, child development theory and much, much more. It is not these new tools or information that make the difference. A good teacher is a good teacher because they know why they do it. They have a firm understanding of why they do what they do. The great ones know why they do what they do, the way that they do it, and they’ll change and adapt as new research becomes available! They keep learning.
A school leader generally knows what to do and some know how to do it. Most school leaders deal with the day to day issues effectively and manage the running of that school.
A good leader is a good leader because they also know why they do it. Great leaders know why they do what they do, the way that they do it.
Where are you in your thinking and self-reflecting?