Adversity brings leadership to the surface

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Our education system, country and world are in unprecedented times due to the COVID-19 virus.  Leaders of schools are facing challenges that rarely have even been discussed in graduate classes or conversations that started “what if”, yet alone in the current reality. But it is real…very real and close to everyone’s homes. During these trying times it reminds us that our ultimate responsibility is not just as an educator or a leader but rather as a human being.  It is our moral responsibility to follow the guidelines of our health department, leadership and make responsible choices as our behaviors may impact others.  It is during adversity, that leadership comes to the surface.

As we are in this change in our society, the adversity of the situation has forced numerous decisions by leaders. I am not judging anyone’s decisions as they have had to make tough decisions that impact lives. I respect their decisions and how they have had to weigh so many factors into decisions. What I have noticed from school leaders is how their leadership has surfaced during adversity and reminds me the importance of strong leaders and the impact they have leading organizations.  Their leadership helps guide many into a pathway towards success.

The following traits are areas that I have noticed school leaders demonstrate as they make tough situations.

 

  1. Operate from core values 

 

When leaders must make the tough decisions regarding schools, they are thinking of the most important thing – people.  Yes, that is the ultimate guide when making tough decisions – how does the current situation impact the safety of the students, staff and families.  There are many things to consider when making decisions, but knowing that people are our primary concern it provides a guiding force to always refer to and make sure is our “north star”.

 

   2.  Make well-informed decisions

 

In today’s social media age, it is very difficult to know what information is correct and which is not accurate but rather an individual’s opinion.  Leadership is marked not by how we respond when we know what to do, but rather how we respond and behave when we don’t know what to do. Leaders bring a sense of assurance to the constantly changing situation and give people confidence that all will be fine. Leaders gather the facts from credible sources and consider all perspectives to make the right decisions.

 

    3. Make decisions part of collective group

 

A leader has great judgement and understands the “100,00 foot viewpoint” of their school or district.”  However, this situation is one that we have never had to even consider in our modern age, so it is wise that leaders make well informed decisions that are part of a larger collective.  It reminds me of the quote, “the smartest person in the room, is the room.” Leaders recognize this is not the time to be right, but rather most important to make the right decisions and sometimes that means asking for help, seeking guidance and learning with others. 

 

    4. Model how you want others to behave and operate 

 

Our current situation is one that is still changing and evolving, so we are not sure of the end result. What we do know is that it never helps if leaders are panicked, are unstable and demonstrate poor behaviors. What does help everyone is when leaders remain steadfast, calm, positive and provide a reassurance that they have everyone’s best interest at heart.  It comes down to taking care of people and that means leaders must connect with people with clear and authentic communication.  

 

True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when leaders work extremely hard to to improve their own learning and that leads to an improved school. All leaders will experience failures, challenging situations and adversity. The leaders that operate from core values demonstrate excellence and many qualities during the challenging times that reassure others that they will be okay and that together, we will move through this challenge and come out on the other side better for it. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better.  We owe that to our students and staff that we serve.

 

Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

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Forging Relationships Through Tough Situations

 

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Many leaders put an emphasis on creating relationships within their school community. This is a necessity as relationships  allow parents, staff and students to work together to solve situations that will arise in every school. However, the question leaders often ask is “how do we create these relationships”? When you think about human interactions, It is easier to create relationships when things are going well, everyone is having fun and is successful. However, a measure of the quality of relationships within your school should be “how do the individuals work together and respond to one another in tough situations”?  

Recently, our administrative team had the opportunity to attend a training that dealt with increasing our self awareness so we could uncover our unconscious bias in dealing with tough situations.  While the training was helpful, as I drove home I reflected upon what could I take away from the training to use with staff. We developed a simplified strategy or tool that any educator could use with another individual when the conversation is tense or potential conflict may arise. We shared this with all of our staff in our PLC work as a way to add another tool to our “educator tool belt”.

Here is the strategy that can be used to forge relationships through tough situations and it provides the foundation for listening, seeing someone else’s perspective and ensuring we do not have our own bias. So during a conversation, an individual would use the following steps to help ensure there is a greater relationship built moving forward as the situation is resolved.

  1. Define the common ground

This is where in the conversation both sides can agree with what they both have in common for the topic. This should be discussed very early in the conversation.

  1. What is the goal for the student (or the goal for the topic)

This is where both sides share the ultimate goal for the topic and occurs after defining the common ground.

  1. Background questions

This is where the educator can ask follow up questions to the parent or participants to get more information on the topic. This is an essential part of solving the situation as the educator learns valuable information regarding the topic that will help determine the end result.

  1. Preferred action

This is where you have the other side share what they want to have happen.  This is essential for the other side to feel valued and part of the conversation and not just told a response.  It is important to note that when you ask someone to share the preferred action, the person may list things that are not possible or realistic but allows the person to fully be a part of the dialogue.  

  1. Next steps

This is where you share the next steps and your recommendation for the issue.  This part allows the conversation to continue to move forward but you may need to follow up with the person again as this may be the first step to resolving the tough situation. 

Here is a scenario where you can see these steps be used.  A common scenario leaders face is where “a parent is upset because their child did not get a high grade in a class and will not talk to the teacher but will only come to you as the school leader.”

 

Steps Parent or other side of topic Educator 
Define the common ground My child should get an A in the class as they are smart and have only gotten A’s before.  I also want your child to do well and I am happy to hear that they have performed at high levels previously.
What is the goal  I want my child to get an A I want your child to do well but our focus is not on an A but rather the child learning at the highest levels, doing their best and developing the right habits to be successful in the future as an independent learner.  May I ask you some additional questions to help me understand our situation further?
Background questions Sure – what questions can I answer? Talk to me about:

  • What is their homework pattern like at home as far as set time, location and habits?
  • Are they rushing to get work done or are they doing quality work?
  • Our work is focused on process and students are given many days, how is their time management with the work?
  • How well do they relate concepts to each other (transfer ideas from 1 to the next)
Preferred Action  I just want my kid to get an A If your child does what we ask of our students (engaged in class, great effort, quality work, caring about learning) then I think they will do well. I cannot guarantee an A, but I can guarantee they will get the most out of this class, learn at high levels and be the best version of themselves and that is our goal.
Next Steps  I would like to set up a conference with your child and the teacher since they know your child the best. You can be there to listen as well. I want to support them and our teachers need to hear how your child shares:

  • how they are doing
  • where they are getting stuck
  • what supports they need
  • a commitment to do consistent best effort
  • chance for our teacher to share strategies moving forward

Can we find a time for this meeting with your child and their teacher?

While each conversation may vary in its complexity and can change from 1 response to another, this framework provides a strategy educators can use so others feel like they are heard, educators learn more about the topic, educators see other perspectives and the next steps are identified. While this conversation may not produce a relationship where both sides are smiling at each other, it will create a platform for dialogue and the foundation that schools want to partner with parents/guardians to help their child find success. Kids – that is what school is about and if we can keep that at the forefront of our conversations and their best interests in mind then our relationships will be stronger and more productive moving forward.

True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when leaders work extremely hard to improve their own learning and that leads to an improved school. By reflecting upon how we forge relationships, especially in tense conflicts, it allows leaders to greater understand how listening and seeing all perspectives allows the relationships to be formed. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better.  We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

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What are your Core Values as a Leader

 

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Leading a school and its students is a task that is complex and changing daily. The forces, both external and internal, place a demand upon leaders time and management. Leaders who are successful are those that are intentional in their practices including how they spend their time, where they place their energy and what is the focus of their work. High Level leaders have Core Values that guide their work and serve as the focus as they strive for excellence.  It is through these Core Values that leaders are able to be consistent in their work and have a laser-like focus. If someone does not operate with Core Values, despite great effort, the person may make improvement but the impact will not always be with the same magnitude and may not be consistent, so the overall impact will be less. When leaders take the time to reflect, process and understand what their Core Values are, then their impact as a leader is magnified and the school community wins. 

Listed below are some areas that leaders may consider to develop as their Core Values.  You may notice there is some overlap but also notice how it creates an intentional focus to the work which then allows for greater reflection, feedback, improvement and impact to occur over time.

Core Values consist of:

 

  • Core Beliefs
  • Key Skills
  • Key Tenants
  • Understanding of “The right work”

 

 

  1. Core Beliefs – These are the key areas that leaders use to set their daily purpose and lead the way with leadership within the organization.  For most leaders, this is how they find their daily impact and reflect if they are operating from their core beliefs. The # and type of core beliefs will vary from 1 person to the next, but the purpose by having Core Beliefs is that the leader has reflected and truly understands the intentionality of their work.

For me, my Core Beliefs are:

All comes back to Relationships

Be Student Centered

Model the Way

 

         2. Key Skills – This describes the skills or leverage points the leader uses to make an impact upon the organization. It reflects the “doing” part of the job and places an emphasis on action oriented work.  Once again, the skills may vary from 1 individual to the next due to the level of the role and the system, but if a leader can recognize the skills that are necessary to impact and develop others, then they can be consistent in their approach and that is the driver of change within the organization. 

My Key skills are:

  • Culture (always work on connecting with others and help them feel valued and create positivity)
  • Communication (this is an essential piece to creating a shared vision with the school community)
  • Challenge the Status Quo ( if we want students to take risks, then our teachers must take risks and they will only do that if their leader take risks)
  • Visibility (this may be most important to staff and parents – leaders lead from their feet, not their seat)
  • Relationships (this is a necessity in quality schools and in many cases occurs when situations are tense and there is potential conflict; in those moments it is not about “who is right” but about “how can we partner together in the best interest of your child”).  

 

 

          3.  Key Tenants – This describes how a leader is systematic and understands the complex levels to creating a quality school. It requires that a leader is constantly trying to see things from different perspectives and understanding that it is a process and takes time.

 

My Key Tenants are:

  • Foster Effective Relationships (foundation of our work)
  • Visionary Leadership (understanding where the school is currently at and where it needs to go)
  • Instructional Leadership (a leader does not have to know everything, but they must be a learner and learn with their staff on latest researched based practices)
  • Developing Others  (great schools exist because of its people and leaders will only have true impact if they develop others within their organization)
  • Creating sustainable change (as leaders make change they must ensure that the resources and people to make the change exist so the work can carry forward)

 

           4.  The “Right Work” – this reflects that leaders understand that the work will never end and there are always things to do – but meaningful change happens only if the focus is on the levers that lead to creating systems and structures of impact for  others. Leaders on some days will get pulled into management type aspects that must be completed, but by having an understanding of “the right work” then leaders can gravitate back to the focus that is needed for positive change. This may vary once again based on a leader’s journey and their role.  

Here is my “right work”

  • Develop a shared vision 
  • Empower others to act
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Model the change
  • Enlarge the heart (care about each other)

 

True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when leaders work extremely hard to improve their own learning and that leads to an improved school. By reflecting upon “What are your Core Values”,  leaders can self-analyze if we are spending our efforts towards the important and right work. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

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Communication Determines Success

 

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There are many skills that leaders possess and use daily with their school communities.  Likewise, a leader can have many different job titles as everyone is a leader and can influence others.  So no matter what skill or job title a leader has, there is a common component that successful leaders do have and use.  This is the importance they place on communication.

If Leaders succeed or fail in many ways is due to effective communication. This includes:

  • How they communicate
  • What they communicate
  • Efficiency of the communication
  • Does it leave a lasting impression upon others

The authenticity and how sincere the message is shared with others often determines the success of communication.  Communication, or the lack of it, may be one of the few factors that determines why certain leaders, initiatives, programs either are successful or fail.  Below are some important foundations of communication.

Let’s review what we know about communication:

  • Must be proactive and consistent in messaging 
  • Most leaders lose jobs due to poor communication and relationships rather than test scores.
  • Leaders recognize that every day you need to share your school’s story with others
  • Every opportunity to communicate to even just one parent will help either build your school’s vision or weaken it.
  • Always be proactive with communication – if you are not telling your school’s story then someone else is telling it for you.

Key aspects of Effective Communication:

  • Should be truthful with stakeholders about the efforts
  • Must be Relevant/timely and must use quality communication – not quantity.
  • Use varied types of communication (ex. email, phone call, and social media) as some situations call for different types of communication. You will know your school community and what works best – but there are some instances where a personal phone call is the best way to resolve an issue instead of a simple email.
  • If it is a sensitive issue – have the conversation in person or via phone  (no email) and if you are concerned on how something was shared – go to the source and find out.
  • Avoid sarcasm and defensiveness – don’t make it about you – make it about moving your school forward

Communication Within your staff:

  • Be Efficient with staff communication and have a routine when it is distributed compared to “all building emails” all the time  (ex. have an internal weekly email newsletter)
  • Should inform/organize and motivate others
  • To build the vision and culture, keep in mind the analogy of “shout praise and whisper criticism” – so visit individually with someone when there is a concern and then collectively to everyone share the praise and supports
  • Make the praise to others authentic, specific and immediate

Communication is a part of a leader’s job and happens throughout the day…..every day in every face to face conversation, email, phone conversation and social media post. It is a key attribute that effective leaders or organizations all have in common.  The role of a school leader is very complex and each day places different demands upon leaders. Using these basic characteristics will help ensure communication is effective and moves your organization forward.

I look forward to hearing from you about your insights into the importance of communication within your role.  Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

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Why Listening is critical part to Leadership

 

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Leadership has many components but one that is often overlooked in its significance is the importance of listening.  I have often asked myself why? From my perspective it is because the stereotype of leaders are those who are “doing” and constantly making changes. That may or may not be accurate, but leaders do try to challenge the status quo and often find it necessary to be working on implementing change – as they recognize only action creates change. But we must recognize that listening is an important part of making positive change in our school communities.  When we listen to others, the students, staff and families; then we are able to identify from the people we serve if true actionable steps have occurred and also identify areas to grow in. As a reminder, the data is important but it’s more important to be people driven. Simply meaning – we must focus on the people who are the stakeholders in our school community and involve them in the change process as we strive for growth.

 

Below are key questions to consider using with different parts of your school community to help you as the leader to listen and learn.  This allows someone to identify key understandings, what areas are working well but also what may need to be addressed. It is through this process of listening to ideas, positives and concerns that leaders are much more effectively able to be the leaders of people and not just leading themselves. Ultimately, this also allows a leader to identify how to develop others and maximize their impact within the school community.

Listening questions to use with students

  1. What do you want learning to be like in school and does this match the current reality?
  2. How do you feel valued and a part of our school?
  3. What are your passionate about?
  4. If you could change 1 thing about this year, what would it be?
  5. What can we do different to further make our school great?

Listening questions to use with staff

  1. What do you love about our school? 
  2. How is this school year and your instruction different than last year? 
  3. If you became principal today, what would be your 1st change and why? 
  4. How can I support you so that you enjoy being at our school and feel fulfilled as an educator? 

Listening questions for families

  1. Describe the mission or purpose of our school for your child?
  2. Does your child feel valued and excited to be a part of our school?
  3. How we can further involve you in our school’s experience?
  4. What is the greatest strength of our school we must continue and also the area we must address and change to grow as a school?

 

There are many difficult parts to leadership and one of those is time. I believe that listening to others and then acting upon that feedback is essential to your growth as a leader and that of your school. As a result, finding the time to listen to those we serve is not only an important part of the work – it is the most important part of the work. 

True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when leaders take risks and strive to get better. In those instances, there are times a person will fail or have defeat. A critical part of leadership is listening to others, getting their feedback and using that to strive for excellence.  It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

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What We Learn From Defeat

 

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     If someone asks “how do you know if someone is excelling in their job”, typically our society would determine their job title, their last promotion or awards the individual has received. While those aspects do deserve significance, they are not the moments that leaders determine to be the defining moments in their career. In many cases, it is when leaders are faced with tough decisions, how they handled a crisis or are told they are not hired for a position. It is in these difficult circumstances, what some may call “defeats,” that leaders further develop skills, sharpen their resilience that pushes them towards excellence. All of us will have tough moments or defeats, but what makes individuals become leaders is how they respond to these challenges.  In this blog post we look at what we learn about these situations that help us to strive for excellence. Remember, a defeat or failing at something “does not define you as a leader, but rather it refines you.”

     When someone has tough moments, it is human nature to question yourself and your skills. At times, we begin to question what is it that we should be working towards or our purpose. If you self reflect and refocus, then you will remember the most important part of our work is not awards or promotions but rather what others will remember about your impact. This includes 

What others will remember about your impact

 

  • How did you trust others and empower them to be the positive change.
  • Did you support others to become better.
  • Did you place a priority on positive relationships and lead with positivity.
  • Did you model for others innovation and vulnerability.
  • Did you lead with character and competence.
  • Did you care about kids and focus the energy upon supporting them.

 

     If you can refocus on what your impact will truly be measured by, then it helps you to see the bigger perspective beyond the tough situation you are currently in. After processing what happened, you can learn very important things from difficult situations that will make your impact even greater. Here are the important things to remember about difficult situations:

What I have learned from difficult situations:

 

  • Focus on what you can control 
  • Model the behaviors you want others to show 
  • Remember it’s about perspective –  “tough moments but never bad days”
  • The challenging situation will make you stronger growth is a process

 

     When we do have tough moments or defeats, we can be too quick to judge ourselves. In many cases, we are our own worst critic and we look for our faults and not how much we are progressing as leaders. In reality, if you work hard, reflect, focus on the right work then you will grow over time. The important thing to remember is that not only are your growing as a leader, but to remember this during the challenging circumstances. To help focus your growth, it’s important that you can measure your growth so it becomes “visible”. Here is how you can measure your growth:

Measure your Growth by

 

  • Your Impact upon others so they develop as leaders
  • Get authentic feedback from stakeholders 
  • Willingness to learn, listen, take risks and fail and see the progress
  • Remove your blind spots
  • Be Intentional with your work 

 

     As a person moves through a tough situation, it is important to remember that we can only do our personal best. We cannot control others, their thoughts or decisions. But we can control our efforts, attitudes and behaviors.  In addition, it’s important as a leader to remember the following:

Focusing on things we can control includes the following:

 

  • Put others first and focus on the best in people
  • Empower others to help make a difference
  • Celebrate the successes of our work and embrace our failures
  • Trust the people you work with as they can be a great support system

 

True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when leaders take risks and strive to get better. In those instances, there are times a person will fail or have defeat. That does not define the leader but rather provides the impetus for continued growth.  It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

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Keys to School Success

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If you have been in any field long enough, you have opportunities to connect and learn from others. Educators are no different.  We like to share ideas, learn from each other and seek out the “ones who have figured it out”. But when you look beyond the individual and consider the entire school community, it is much harder to pinpoint the factors that lead to success for the entire school community.  School success on a broad sense is where schools develop the human potential of the students in academics, emotional and character traits. It is also where the adults are focused on growth and providing the best for the students through collective efficacy. But what are those schools doing as “keys to school success”? In this blog we share ideas that I have learned from other leaders and combined together to discover what successful schools have in common. 

 

  1. Culture is key – Most educators recognize culture is important, but it is the MOST important part of successful schools.  It represents the cumulative effect of all the behaviors of the students/staff and parents. It also one of the hardest areas to develop or enhance as it takes time and is a process.  The culture of the school aligns to the actions and behaviors of the adults within your building – how the staff interacts is how the students will feel. It is important that students feel safe, positive and happy to be there.
  2. Students are valued and cared for – School is the “job” for our students as that is where they go from age 5 – 18. I cannot imagine going to a place that I did not like or feel appreciated.  It is critical that staff get to know students by name, welcome them each day and learn their passions. Great educators recognize that the purpose of our work is WHO we teach, not what we teach.  Students should feel like school is home to them.
  3. Foundational purpose – As society is rapidly changing, so is the rate of change for schools. This may lead to some schools also changing their goals or work frequently until they find “what sticks.” Great schools know their purpose and remain consistent with their work – they simply focus on getting better within those areas over time. Within this work, they remain INTENTIONAL and have a laser like focus.  
  4. Systems and structures in place – All great organizations and teams have clear expectations due to the systems and structures put into place. This allows the staff to not worry about what will happen or when, but rather focus on the “why” and “how”. This is where you move the needle with instruction and growth of the educators.
  5. The classroom teacher matters – The most influential person to a student is their classroom teacher.  This is the person that not only teaches content but will also model character traits and can either support or tear down students.  Great schools exist because of great teachers, and when you have great teachers then they will attract other quality teachers and they will stay.  This builds a powerful and influential team.
  6. Shared Leadership – A great principal can have a positive impact upon a school, but when the principal develops other leaders then there is a multiplier effect.  The more leaders you have then the more ways your school move forward and meet the needs of students who have diverse needs. It allows the school to function at a much higher level as more staff are “focused on becoming the best for the team, not the best on the team.”
  7. Partnering with families – Schools exist for educating students and who knows the students the best but their parents. Great schools recognize the importance of engaging families and creating ways to get them into the building so they feel connected to the school, share ideas and concerns, support the work of the school and help drive a positive culture.

 

True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when leaders work extremely hard to improve their own learning and leads to an improved school. By reflecting upon “Keys to School Success”,  leaders can self-analyze if they are spending the right efforts towards the work with staff that will move it forward. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

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