From our Educator Guest Blogger Series
Summer is often a time of reflection for me as a teacher and educational leader.
This summer, I’ve been doing lots of thinking on the role of the leaders in our schools and in district leadership roles — our principals, our assistant principals, department chairs, directors, coordinators, teacher leaders, and the many others who tirelessly lead our educational system without a formal title.
In thinking of characteristics that make a great leader in education, there are eight characteristics that seem to rise to the top. I bet if you do some self-reflection, you possess many of these characteristics as well. This is most definitely not an all-inclusive list. This is simply a benchmark that you can use as you rev up your leadership V8 engine for the coming year!
Excellent educational leaders are cultiV8ors.
They cultivate relationships and trust and foster a school culture that allows students and teachers to flourish. They engage the community, central office staff, and other stakeholders in the work being done in their building. Outstanding leaders cultivate a culture that includes continuous growth and lifelong learning, a sense of belongingness for staff, students, parents, and community members, and is inclusive and celebratory of the beautiful diversity that exists and makes our schools stronger.
Excellent educational leaders are motiV8ors.
They have a shared vision for the future that is grounded in the needs of the school, and they relentlessly nudge everyone toward that vision. So often we are doing “things” just for the sake of doing them and don’t have a north star to guide us. Truly great leaders look at the data, all sorts of data (not just test scores, folks), determine their starting point, and set goals for the future that are realistic and attainable. They also get people excited about the work to come and celebrate victories both small and large along the way. In Principal 50: Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence, author and former principal Baruti Kafele states that leaders “must inspire excellence by helping students and staff to envision it in action, and must also consistently reinforce their own expectations for the school.”
Excellent educational leaders are captiV8ors.
They passionately engage in dialogue with a wide variety of different people, particularly those who have ideas that differ from their own. When they do not know the answer, these leaders seek out others and are not afraid to ask for help. They understand the power in building a professional learning network within a district, state, nation, and on social media because they know there are so many smart people out there doing this work well. By doing so, they demonstrate their personal belief that the smartest person in the room IS the room, and none of us is as smart as ALL of us. According to Burgess and Houf (2018), excellent leaders pour resources into people, not programs. “The solution to any school challenge or issue is never just a new program. It is a commitment to the people who are doing the work. It is building a sense of self-efficacy in the individuals on your team and convincing them that the magic isn’t in the latest initiative or curriculum mandate — the magic is in them!”
Excellent educational leaders are eleV8ors.
They set high expectations and continually work to raise the bar when it comes to a wide variety of subject areas as well as teachers that support the diverse needs of students in the school and/or district. The idea that all students - every single one - can achieve great things if they work hard and have the supports in place to be successful in school is one that guides excellent educational leaders. To achieve greatly, they understand that every single adult in the building is part of this journey. Allowing children to see what they can become through a culturally relevant lens is also so very important as we look at this characteristic. Students must see faces and stories like their own throughout the books they read, the curriculum they are taught, and reflected in the adults staffed in the building so that they can set their own goals for the future and explore the limitless potential that lies within them.
Excellent educational leaders are renoV8ors.
They are constantly reinventing themselves and shifting their own practice. These leaders do not allow stagnancy to creep in and stifle the great work that is to be done to empower each child to take the future head-on and make it their own. When strategies are not working, when plans go awry, and when our own paradigm must make a shift as district and state mandates change, these leaders change with the times while still maintaining strong, evidence-based core beliefs about teaching and learning. Oftentimes, this is not an overhaul, but, again, a shift in our thinking, our mindsets, and our habits that allow us to become flexible, adaptable, and ready for change when it comes (and it most assuredly WILL).
Excellent educational leaders are excaV8ors.
They look for the best in all people and work to bring that out by utilizing small acts of kindness. An administrator bringing a “Coke Float” cart down the hall is a welcomed surprise for teachers for the hard work that they do each and every day. Allowing students to pie the administrator in the face, tape the administrator to the wall, or even make them kiss a pig as the reward for a fundraiser or meeting a reading/writing goal can bring out the good in everyone! Relationships and culture, again, are drivers when it comes to bringing out the best in one another and seeing the good in every single child!
Excellent educational leaders are innoV8ors.
They try new things and sometimes make mistakes, but they fail forward and encourage others to do so as well. They take risks with new and innovative strategies and technologies. They embrace shared leadership with others in their building when it comes to selecting the tools they choose to use in their schools. They are avid readers, writers, listeners, and thinkers. They embrace a culture of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, and citizenship so that the students in their building can and will achieve the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, regardless of the zip code of their school.
Excellent educational leaders are actiV8ors.
They push students to become active citizens in the school and local community, and they push teachers to develop their own leadership skills and take action. They also invite experts in to share with students how to exhibit the qualities of good citizenship — empathy, compassion, community, responsibility, and so much more. Part of the “activation” that needs to take place is also empowering future leaders to take the reins when it comes to implementing new projects. If we do not build others up and allow them to see the work that we are doing, they will spend time reinventing wheels and making mistakes that the current generation is already tackling. Finding first followers and setting the expectation that they apprentice alongside us is, in the long-run, time well-spent.
With all of this engine talk, it’s also important to “fuel your vehicle” with positive energy. As we take on the highways of life, we must come together and stand up for the reason we got into this business: our students. Passion drives us, vision determines our destination, and best practices steer us in the right direction. It’s important to “clean out the gunk” as it can and will clog our gears if we’re not careful.
As you continue your educational leadership journey, keep these characteristics in mind, and remember that trailblazing in the name of student success is difficult — but the journey is so worth it! Best of luck this year!
Ascd, B. K. (2015). Chapter 1. The Attitude of the Leader. Retrieved July 14, 2019, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/115050/chapters/The-Attitude-of-the-Leader.aspx
Burgess, S. and Houf, B. (2017) Lead like a pirate: make school amazing for your students and staff. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
Albert Robertson is the Coordinator of Social Studies for Lexington County School District One. Prior to serving as a district-level leader, Robertson was a middle school social studies teacher and teacher leader at Pleasant Hill Middle School and Meadow Glen Middle School. In 2014, Robertson was selected as the Lexington One District Teacher of the Year, and he then went on to serve as a SC Honor Roll Teacher the following year (2015-2016). He currently serves as Immediate Past-President of the South Carolina Social Studies Supervisors Association and President-Elect of the South Carolina Council for the Social Studies. He is passionate about social studies, teacher leadership, and civic engagement of our students in South Carolina, the future leaders of our state, nation, and world. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This guest blog does not necessarily reflect the views of ETV Education.