Who am I as a Leader? - Mon., Jan. 17, 2017
Eleven years ago I was teaching in a small, rural school, and had the opportunity to transition into a principal position at a neighboring small school. I had always been a teacher leader, always president of this and that, always the "do-be," so I thought "why not?? I was fairly active in the local union, and when I told the NEA rep. what I was considering, he said, "Oh, no, you're crossing over to the dark side!" I didn't really take it to heart since his position was naturally adversarial to administration having just finished contract negotiations. Since then I've understood what he meant by that, and so I'm creating this blog for the class as I "search for the light from the dark side."
The important work for me as a leader is supporting teachers so that they can do their job. Having been a teacher for over twenty years, working for a supportive principal can make a break a teacher, especially a new one. Teachers have a hard job, and administrators can make it even harder if they aren't leading.
As a leader, I use two factors to guide me - what's best for kids, in partnership with the "golden rule" - treating the other person like I'd want to be treated. When making decisions for my organization, I still think about the students first, and then the community and how that will impact the parents. I still have a teacher license, and think like a teacher, so my decisions are guided by what a teacher would want.
Getting the work of the school done is a formidable journey, especially right now. The focus changes depending on the time of the year and who's in charge of the spotlight. Educationally, teachers think "long term" and how this fits into preparing those students for career and college ready, yet short term in the day to day lesson plans. Action plans help guide the way for the staff, Board, and community.
I communicate with others in a variety of ways. The number one way to communicate with parents and the community is through my weekly "Rockets Report" blog that they receive every Sunday. I have a separate "blog" for my staff community. When possible, I prefer face to face conversations, but to make sure that everyone has access to the same news, it's the blog.
My decision making process depends on the type of decision and who the stakeholders are. If it's a decision that affects the staff or students, then it's a "shared" decision. I present options and my rationale, and let the staff discuss and decide. If it's an "executive" decision, then I go with my guidelines as mentioned above.
Determining what resources to use and how to use them is an evolving process. Since we're small, it's usually about cost, so how can it be done for little or no cost? If it's human resources, then it's about avoiding burn-out and sharing the burden. I have a bad habit of being the "fallback" resource that gets overused, something I'm aware of and working on.
As I've lead groups, I really believe in teams and shared decision making. Throughout my career, I've worked with "School Improvement Teams" made up of volunteer staff who don't mind a little extra "meeting time." We operate with group norms, an agenda, and minutes with rotating facilitators. As a teacher, I'd been on "teams" where there was a mandatory rep. for each grade, but found that mandatory does not necessarily make the best team member. When I was a camp director, I'd have an "admin team" that consisted of all key stakeholders - asst. director, nurse, cook, program director, H20 director, etc. where we discussed/brainstormed/planned/cried, etc. In my current school, we have so few staff members that everyone is on the SIT team, but we do break down into "committees" on certain topics like PBIS, etc. I'm not afraid to make a decision. I have no problem with "executive decisions" and make them when I have to, but consensus and buy-in are key to growth in an organization.
It's easier for me to see the "light" when there's a team actively working towards the goal. It also "lightens" my load considerably. And so my search continues....