What does it take to be an effective leader? Countless articles and Twitter chats explore this topic daily. Why? Because those of us who have dedicated ourselves to improving ourselves and our organizations every day seek the most effective strategies to achieving excellence in ourselves and our work.
As a building principal the past 9 years and a high school administrator for the last 15, and now as a passionate educational coach, I, too, have been, and will continue to be on this journey of leadership learning and discovery.
How do we ensure we are the best leaders we can be, as well as empower others in leadership?
The 3 C's.
We must each be a highly effective communicator, catalyst and cheerleader.
Communicator: We must be the most effective communicators in our organizations with all key stakeholders. Sounds simple? This may be the most difficult of all tasks of a leader. If you are a principal of a high school of 1600 students, you most likely also have a staff of at least 150 and well over 3000 parents and extended family. You also may have a district with multiple high schools or buildings and a central office with whom to also communicate.
Every day you have key stakeholders with whom to communicate. Do you? Is every staff member in your building clear about the day, the week and upcoming events and goals? Is every student? Every parent? Every other administrator that needs to know?
What about the means of communication? On any given day, you will need to communicate in person, through email or enews, on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook with your stakeholders, not to mention your PLN, and through handwritten notes and letters.
The Why? Dedicate a portion of every day to communication with all key stakeholders. Principals and leaders determine the culture and climate fr their buildings/organizations and realize their mission/vision in every communication and interaction you have each day. Students, parents and staff may remember that one interaction with you for the rest of their lives. A powerful opportunity. Don't miss it by not making time for it.
Leaders MUST be the catalysts for the change every building and organization needs. To be a catalyst in education you must be the best learner in the building. Read widely all of the best educational research you can find. Be a student of education in order to be a leader.
Henry Ford once said that if he had asked everyone what they wanted they would say a faster horse. Henry Ford had a vision that no one else and revolutionized lives. Do you? Principals have the power to revolutionize lives every day for the better. Are you working on actualizing your vision every day with your key stakeholders. By reading, attending workshops and institutes, immersing yourself in a PLN and participating in Twitter chats with other like professionals, you can become an expert in professional learning community work, formative assessment, a focus on learning, visible learning and a number of other best instructional practices that will improve your building.
Then collaborate with other administrators, teacher-leaders, students, parents and staff to develop timelines and action steps. But the catalyst has to be you. In science a catalyst is a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected. Be the change you wish to see. Accelerate the learning while remaining strong in the process. Leading without being a catalyst is not leading at all.
At first glance this one may be a puzzler. But truly, it doesn't matter how well you communicate or how good your vision and action steps are if you are not a cheerleader for your your students, parents, staff and every aspect of your building. Cheerleaders are visible and enthusiastic supporters of teams no matter how big or small they are or what the score is. When the team is down by 5 touchdowns the cheerleaders don't pack it in and go home. Rain?-- let it pour and the cheerleaders are still smiling and still cheering.
And that needs to be you. No matter how bad the day is, how dismal the funding is, how badly the levy fails, you need to stand at your front door every morning and smiling broadly, greet each student who comes in. You need to do the same thing for your secretaries, custodians, cooks and teachers, and have ongoing positive interactions with every stakeholder you encounter. If you are smiling on the outside, even though the stress of running a high school is killing you on the inside on that day, then that is what your students and staff will remember.
Attend every school event you can. Drive to the mock trial competition at the courthouse as well as to the basketball game. Go to every play and every concert, sit down with your students at their lunch tables, and sit with the parents at away sporting events. Why? Because an important part of being a leader is being all in, every day, with every member of your school family.
Actively engage every school day at every school event with every person you can. Be a cheerleader for your school-- it will show that you care about every person, and that is one of the most important roles a leader has.
Being a leader today in education is not easy, but it is the best job in the world. By being effective communicators, catalysts and cheerleaders, we can enhance learning for every student, every day, and change lives. And very few people get to do that for a career.