In the last few years I have read many books and blogs, listened to podcasts, participated in Twitter and Voxer chats and been engaged in EdCamps. I have valued these experiences as it has allowed me to meet connected educators, stretch my thinking by learning from others and develop a support system of growth. One of the main topics of these experiences has been on Leadership. As I continue to evolve as a school leader, I have tried to find “what does the data and research say regarding the most impactful ways of leadership in schools.” Much of this effort has been in studying work of John Hattie and other education based research journals. It also included reading the book by Peter DeWitt on Collaborative Leadership. From those new learnings, below are my perspectives on 6 Researched Based ways leaders can provide school leadership that moves schools towards excellence.
- Connected Leaders – Research shows that no one can move a school forward by themselves as effectively as a team can. Leaders must continually reflect, learn and stretch their thinking as it serves the purpose of challenging the status quo within the school. In today’s age, this means connecting with other leaders around you but also through social media. This allows the leader to connect with others and learn new perspectives that can be applied to their role.
- Maximize Teacher Strengths – This important aspect of a leader’s role begins with helping teachers believe they can make a difference with students. To do this, leaders must get to know each staff member, build rapport and find unique ways to motivate each one to improve. This area takes time as building rapport and understanding what motivates a staff member may take years – but this must always remain a focus area, as we must help staff constantly strive to improve. The key is to focus on growth – not change – as that allows each person to feel a buy in and grow within the PD framework of the school. Leaders must also provide authentic feedback to those staff members as they try to stretch themselves and celebrate small wins so the staff member feels validated for their hard work.
- Instructional leadership – This is a key area for leaders as they must create the environment where staff feel empowered to share ideas, take risks and change practices in order to better meet the learning needs of students. Leaders can accelerate this work by providing a vision for improvement, being transparent with staff on the purpose of the work and providing the platform (ex. resources, time, support) so teachers focus on growth and student learning.
- Providing Feedback – All educators value hearing from their supervisor’s words of praise. However, to truly help someone reflect and move forward, the feedback that is provided to educators must be related to the goals of the PD work and school. We must provide authentic feedback that is specific, positive and helpful. In addition, feedback is also how we receive the information from others, even negative feedback. I have learned that when receiving feedback that we may not like (but need to hear), that we be intentional on listening, ask clarifying questions and for examples of how they would want it done differently. This helps lead to a more clear understanding of the purpose and intention of the feedback. Providing feedback also relates to how we work with our students in the learning process. It is significant when students can self-asses their own work; identify what worked and what to do with items they struggled with. Students only learn these self-assessment techniques through the learning process and feedback received from teachers.
- Professional Learning (PD) – In order to help each teacher grow in areas that relate to the school’s work, leaders must provide professional learning that includes the following features:
- Have a clear focus of 1-2 goal areas so everyone is moving the same direction (not necessarily the same speed)
- Teacher voice their needs and leaders provide differentiated work so everyone can learn at their current levels
- Focus on how the work relates to student learning
- The work must keep teachers engaged and challenge their existing beliefs
- Develop a climate of “risk taking”
- Provide time for reflection and then time for adjustments to be made (a key for growth)
- School Community Engagement – As leaders innovate ways to move schools forward, sometimes we forget one of the most essential ways is to involve the people outside of the building. In other words, it is important to build partnerships with the parents/school community and strive to make meaningful, trusting connections with the parents that you can partner with on behalf of the students. To create this climate, leaders must provide the platform for parents and reasons for them to work/learn with you. For example, this may be doing quarterly “coffee with the Principal” meetings, Parent EdCamps, getting feedback from parents etc. Most importantly, this rapport is developed one conversation at a time when you get the chance to listen to the parent and share your beliefs on how you want to help support their child. Does this take time – most definitely but creating trusting relationships with the parents is one of the most important things leaders can do.
As you strive to learn and stretch yourself as a leader, I would be curious on how you are evaluating what methods will work that provide lasting impact for your leadership role. Reach out to me with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org