I can’t believe how busy it has been lately! I haven’t posted a blog in a long time. And to be honest, I think about it almost every day. I have set aside some time this morning to do just that!
I have been reflecting on the concept of respect lately and what that means to a leader. To a manager, it might simply mean, that people do as they’re told. I think it means a lot more to a leader. As part of my effort to put my ruminations down on ‘paper’, I’ve come up with a list of ways leaders show respect to those they work with.
- Two sided – Respect is two sided. It is a process that happens between people and although there is a need for self respect as part of the big picture, the kind of respect that takes place in schools has to be between admin and the staff; and it has to go both ways.
- Trust – One of the major components of a respectful, well functioning school environment (or any environment, for that matter) is the element of trust. Good relationships have to be built on trust. Micromanagers, Top Down leaders and ineffective leaders all lack the respect for their team to either listen or follow through.
- Listening/take advice – as mentioned in the previous item, respect is demonstrated by listening to the team and following through on what you say you are going to do. It’s been said that “the smartest person in the room is the room”; and ever since I heard this from George Couros, it has stuck with me. By getting a group of educators together to work through a problem, you know you’re going to get some good ideas.
- Take time to think – We need to avoid making any quick decisions, without taking the time to mindfully consider all sides. We show respect by ensuring that what decisions we make are thought through. People will respect a decision that they may not agree with, as long as they know that it is well thought out, and all sides have been considered.
- Honour – take time to honour those around you. When I was a VP I was told that any news article or publication celebrating the school or one of its programs has to mention the principal. I didn’t feel right about it at the time, and now as a principal I have to totally disagree. A principal needs to honour their team enough to allow the spotlight to shine where it needs to, and to step back out of the spotlight whenever necessary.
- High standards – I show respect to the school, its constituents and the staff by making the tough decisions when necessary. If that means changing a program or getting rid of an ineffective member, I have to do it. It’s vital that I show respect for the overall effectiveness of the school and its staff.
Respect… Trust… Honour
It’s the people that make the school a great place. Respect them!
So, I’m a very calm person. Very few people have seen me angry – ever. I had an incident recently, that when I shared with people was generally met with disbelief. The way I reacted taught me quite a bit about not just myself, but how people in general deal with stressful situations. The most important lesson is how I need to seek to understand others.
It started when I had to deal with a number of ‘poor choices’ other drivers were making. I generally just shake my head or mutter under my breath, but always try to keep in mind that people are people, and I have no idea what they are dealing with. However, one incident that day really sent me over the edge. I was in a parking lot in front of a box store, and I saw a couple of very young boys about to cross from the sidewalk in front of the stores into the parking lot. I stopped, not too suddenly; but the young woman behind me started honking. Well, I couldn’t believe that she either couldn’t see the kids, or wouldn’t stop to think for 2 seconds about why I might be stopping. My patience for her dissipated immediately and I am embarrassed to admit that, to put it bluntly, gave her the finger.
After the kids crossed in front of me, I kept driving, but was very upset with her lack of patience. As we continued through the parking lot, she remained behind me. When I pulled up to the stop sign to pull out onto the street, I looked in my mirror and she was checking her cell phone – All patience was gone!
I put my emergency brake on and jumped out of my car to give her a piece of my mind. I was angry and she needed to know what I thought of her. Well, to my disbelief, she wouldn’t roll her window down so I could tell her. I finally just signaled to her to not use her cell phone, and stormed back to my car and drove off.
It took me about a minute to start feeling really stupid about what I had done. Once I had totally settled down I started thinking about the poor example I had been to my two sons who were in the car with me. I talked to them about it, and put up a public apology in FaceBook, as I had no way of apologizing to the young woman.
As I think back on the incident, I am reminded of the times I have to deal with angry students or parents. My first reaction is usually to try to reason with them. And being a generally long-suffering person, I find it difficult to empathize with people in that state. My own reaction to this incident has given me a bit of a view of what others go through. When someone is upset, they need time to calm down before they can be reasoned with. I need to be patient during that time.
As leaders in schools we really need to model patience and understanding, a trait which I think I usually do very well. Obviously, though I’m not totally there yet, and am continually learning. It’s great that we can all learn from our own mistakes.
Over the last few years, in addition to lots of other great things, we’ve developed a new mission and vision. This has helped move me to spend considerable time thinking about how to implement both my own vision and our school vision. A necessary part of the process is putting systems in place to make that happen. I decided near the end of the last school year that the way we utilized our staff teams at school just wasn’t working. We now have a:
- School Leadership Team
- Lighthouse Team
- Seven Habits Certification Team
- Staff Wellness Team
The first three teams have been in place for the last two years, and the school leadership team has been around for quite a while. The wellness team is new this year.
I knew that the teams weren’t necessarily doing all that they could to make our school function more efficiently and have the best overall benefit for students, staff and community. I made a change in two ways. Firstly I changed the composition of each of the teams. The second change was around the role of each team.
The Leadership team is now composed of The school admin, counselor and anyone on staff involved in the Divisional Leadership cohort or is working on their Master’s Degree. I also added a support staff member to allow room for that voice in our decision making. This team added the task of planning our school based PD activities. Our division is allowing school control of PD for both professional and support staff to a much higher degree. While we are glad to have this control, we decided that the process must be undertaken carefully and with a mind to benefit us in the greatest way possible. Our team continues to work on its roles in
Leadership as well PD Planning and implementation. We will refine our process and skill in this area.
Both the Lighthouse and Certification teams are directly tied to the Seven Habits Program we are part of. We have worked together with our sister school, (Lilian Schick School) where we send our grade 4 students to for grades 5 – 9. The teams work to implement the program in our schools and train our new staff and parents about the program. Changes made in these teams have resulted in a clarity of what each team needs to do, as well as tasking them with keeping the program moving forward. These roles too, are still being developed, and the need for establishing clear goals continues to be a focus.
The Wellness team is new this year. We all know that there is stress in our job and being mindful of that, I decided it was important to have a committee specifically designated to “address the stress”. We try to have a monthly activity in which whoever can attend is welcome. Putting a committee like this together demonstrates the value in staff relationships and collegiality.
Being mindful in putting together teams that move the school in a desired direction was, in my opinion, a good idea. We are making progress. We are moving forward.
So, just typing the title of my post made me think back to my first year of university when I was MUCH younger and this was a smash hit! With a little reflection however, the video actually fits the theme.
I have been thinking a bit about the difference between being intentional in how we do things and just having things occur incidentally. Don’t get me wrong, I work at a great school, with great people and a LOT of wonderful things happen here just incidentally because of that. Our students generally do quite well, and we are good at responding to those that struggle. We have very few behaviour issues that occur and a lot of that is because we are naturally a caring place. However there are many, many things that happen because we are intentional about it.
We are a Leader in Me School, so we work on the Seven Habits of Happy Kids with our students. We are getting better at implementing the program and bringing the kids along on that journey, but we have figured out that we need to have goals and work toward them to make the best possible version of the program happen. When we have seen the program flounder is when we have lost sight of the goal and need to remind ourselves to get back on track, and to set goal for our entire school that keep us focused.
One of our (My) goals for this year is to increase the parent awareness and involvement in the Leader in Me program. It is part of one of my Professional Growth Plan goals, and I have spent some time thinking about this piece lately. Right now, a lot of what our parents know has happened through being present at assemblies, what has been written in newsletters, but mostly it comes from what they hear from their children.
The main importance of being intentional is that we have a lot more control over the outcome of our actions. We set a goal, we plan how and when that goal will be achieved, and we implement our plan. Then with a little accountability from the stakeholders, we move forward expecting the desired result. It’s quite simple, actually.
Just like getting in shape (here’s my roundabout connection to ONJ!) being intentional happens when we put in effort and occurs a lot easier if we have a goal and work towards it.
Let’s get intentional, intentional
I wanna get intentional
Let’s get into intentional
Let me hear your action plan, your action plan
Let me hear your action plan….
I cannot imagine being in the situation that Dawn Hochsprung and her staff were in, as a gunman unleashes his anger and confusion on a school filled with young children. I imagine that, and hope I will never be in a similar situation, but it’s hard not to think about it, when you are a principal and in addition, your school is a PreK – Grade 4 school, the same configuration as Sandy Hook elementary.
We practice lockdown drills a few times a year. We try to do them with different levels of threat considered. We talk to the students about safety and regularly talk about what we may need to do to increase the safety of our students. That being said, Sandy Hook had excellent protocol around student safety and security as well. No matter our measures, there is always a chance that something can happen that is totally unexpected.
Scenarios run through my head. They range from hiding and calling 911, to confronting the perpetrator, and even some action movie kind of take down! (if you’ve ever seen me, you know the unlikelihood of that one!) The teachers who were killed were put in a situation where they were doing what they could to protect their students. School needs to be a place where students feel safe and protected from the harm of the world. I do everything I can to make the school a safe place. We have currently upgraded our security system to incorporate fobs for entry; we have only the main door accessible throughout the day. We have plenty of staff outside on supervision. We try to ensure all visitors stop in at the office on their way in, and if they don’t they are approached by someone in the office.
I don’t think anyone can know exactly how they would react in that situation. My hope is that we would do whatever we could to protect the students that we have been entrusted to care for. We would put ourselves in harm’s way to make sure students were safe. We would ensure that we were practiced and ready as much as possible for the unthinkable to occur.
I can’t say what I would do exactly, but I would do what I could; much like anyone who is in this profession.
Hold on!! The bandwagon is making another round… get ready to jump on!!
We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work.
When do I just teach?
My plate is already full, what can I take off?
I don’t have time?
Whose idea was this?
I’m not doing that!
Change is inevitable in education. Right now we are going through a time of major flux, and there is no way to avoid a lot of what is going to happen. We have a lot of choices as to how we manage the things that are affecting our schools, staff and students. Already, we have to juggle many of these strategies at the same time.
There are times when we too have to say no to the newest initiative, or the great offer. I don’t think there’s a day when something in my email, regular mail, FaceBook, Twitter etc. doesn’t offer me the solution to some problem. I get offers for books, programs, speakers, workshops, and solutions to problems I didn’t know I had. I get phone calls about entertainment opportunities with an educational message. Articles I read talk about an approach someone is taking and it’s working great for them. There’s no lack of ‘great’ things to take advantage of!
When I do have opportunity to sit back and reflect on all the other possibilities that I don’t have a choice of rejecting, or are actually valuable, it isn’t easy. I still find that there are people who balk at the change that the endeavour entails. As most of us are aware, there are two main reasons for fear of change.
- Fear of being moved out of one’s comfort zone.
- The change is actually not necessary or not practical.
It is when things fall into the second category, that my job becomes more difficult. Moving people out of their comfort zone is not the easiest thing to do, but you are only dealing with one person at a time and there are strategies for moving people along. When we are dealing with impractical or nonsensical, there are more dynamics involved. The change may be imposed by a superior and my job is to become an advocate for the people working for me. The change may be the result of situations beyond anyone’s control or in the control of someone so far away from our sphere of influence that there’s not much we can do besides complain.
Sometimes the change that needs to happen is a positive thing, but in the current culture or system, it won’t fit properly. When I think about what I feel should happen with education, I know much of it cannot occur without a complete overhaul of the system. If we want more teacher autonomy, curriculum needs to be radically changed. If we want more time for collaboration and planning, we need the resources to allow for this. If we need more individualized programming for students, teachers need time and training. There’s a lot that could be changed, but there’s not enough motivation to move out of our factory model of education.
What we really need is a wholesale change, but that’s a topic for another blog.
A lot of the fear is manageable, and kudos to those that embrace it and make it work. As a person, I like change. I have been open to new ways of doing things, and as my career progressed, become more of a risk taker. Not everyone is like that. My job now, is to manage the change as much as I can.
It didn’t occur to me until this point in my writing, that the old Serenity Prayer fits for us as well.
So now, I just need to wait for the wisdom to know the difference!
One of the things that concerns me about some styles of leadership is the distance that forms between the leader and the ‘followers’. When the leader is viewed as a person who is stationed above the rest of the people in the organization they can become unapproachable and untouchable. Setting up a culture where this is not the case has to be an important goal. A goal that will benefit everyone.
Leaders need to be constantly growing. If the people they work with are unable to talk to them about their opinions around decisions made and actions taken; or don’t feel they can collaborate and provide input, the leader is missing out on the knowledge of the group and the opportunity to reflect and change as a result of that input.
I have been in situations where nothing the leader does can be questioned. This led to a lot of mistrust. Leaders have to listen to what is being said if they expect to be listened to. Covey’s habit of “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” definitely applies.
A leader also needs to think about, Synergizing, shared leadership, building capacity, and Principal Quality Standard numbers one, two and three
- Fostering Effective Relationships
- Developing and Facilitating Leadership
- Embodying Visionary Leadership
All three of these are tied to the principal’s (leader’s) ability to work WITH the other people in the organization to promote personal and organizational growth.
We have to be approachable, we have to listen, we have to learn. We have to model what we expect from those who work with us and those we look to for leadership.
Our motto at school is:
Everyone a Learner;
Everyone a Leader
Time to focus on being a learning leader!