While meeting with my critical friend this week we got into an interesting discussion about being a principal. I have been in girls’ schools for some eight years now after nine years in boy’s schools. I must admit the experience has made me a better practitioner and leader. I believe that men and women can be equally as effective as school principals. I have noted that at times women work harder to prove they are the equal of men.
I believe that a good principal is a gentle principal. I have developed my own understanding of “Gentle”, in the development of my idea of Gentle Leadership. My own servant leadership beliefs meet well with this. I see my own leadership like well-tanned leather. The metaphor in this is that well-tanned leather has an external surface that is tough, resilient and flexible. The right thing is done for the right reasons. Gentle leadership has none of the brittle nature of glass, nor the inflexibility and sharpness of steel.
Gentle leadership implies that the leader listens to all, considers well, considers the philosophy and background of the context and then tries to develop solutions with wisdom and sensitivity, combined with determination to challenge those who want the wrong things for the wrong reasons. To me, this kind of leadership is not gender specific. It requires a personal philosophy, empathy and a solid dose of determination. Men and women are equally capable of this kind of leadership.
Being Maori Language week I took time this week to reflect on my progress this year. I enjoyed semester one learning stage one Maori at WITT. It fitted into my own leadership belief as a truly was a learner again totally outside my comfort zone. While it was challenging I loved every minute of it and will do the same in 2015.
This week I was also inspired the way our students got stuck into Maori language week and the Kapa Haka competition that begins this term. The following is a reflection from a blog this week which also inspired me:
“I have heard it said that if Māori is to survive in this country as a viable language, then Pākehā must speak it. If they do not, the declining numbers of Māori currently speaking te reo (as identified in the most recent census) may be the harbinger of linguistic doom. We need all hands on deck. If that is indeed the case (and I agree that it is) reports this week of the low numbers of non-Maori studying te reo at school (4% of the total student body in year 9 and above, (see here) are concerning. The Māori and Pākehā learners of today are the reo Māori teachers of tomorrow. One of the key argument against making te reo compulsory in schools has been that due to the low numbers of te reo Māori teachers the bulk of the people who would need to deliver te reo to the school kids would be Pākehā, and in many cases, inexperienced and underprepared to do a good job. As calls for compulsory te reo Māori at primary school level start to gain a bit more of a head of steam (see here) it becomes pretty obvious that there would be a massive problem in delivery, even if the compulsory element is only in the offering of te reo Māori, rather than in ensuring every child must learn it. But I don’t think the lack of human resources comprises an effective argument against compulsory reo in schools, rather, that is a logistical problem that will need to be solved by governments.”
Last term I had some engaging conversations with my Heads of Department. Our school, like many around the country, is transforming the way we look at teaching and learning. Our conversation really got me thinking. Through our transformation process, I need to cultivate teacher leaders more than ever before.
Teacher leaders are the backbone of our work, and we as an SLT can’t do it alone. Let’s take a look at some innovative efforts that are changing schools around the country. I thought of ways they could develop their faculties. This coincided with some advice I was giving to another school so this developed real purpose.
A great leader brings out the best in their staff. There are several common denominators when it comes to strong leaders. Here are a few:
1. Has a sense of humor. This doesn’t mean a boss that constantly cracks jokes or acts like a clown. It simply means they are approachable, relatable and see the value in an upbeat, positive workplace. A friendly office environment starts at the top.
2. Allows freedom to fail. Once employees are given the proper training, a good boss will step out of the way. Employees flourish when they know they are trusted to do the right thing after given clearly defined expectations. A good boss steps in when they see an issue, but continually relies on employees to do what they have been hired to do.
3. Values strong communication. A good boss clearly articulates expectations, freely shares news that will benefit their team and offers feedback, both positive and constructive, to each employee they directly supervise. Most importantly, they establish communication as a two-way street, creating a safe atmosphere to voice opinions and concerns.
4. Asks for input. Everyone on the team is there because they have professional skills to contribute to the organization. A good boss knows they can’t be an expert at all things, and must rely on their team for corporate success.
5. Encourages growth. A good boss will provide opportunities for employee development and growth. They are tuned in to those who demonstrate initiative and are eager to expand their knowledge.
6. Acknowledges success. A good boss compliments and rewards their team and doesn’t miss an opportunity to “brag” about an employee’s job well done – at a staff meeting, board meeting, or in front of a client. Happy employees are a direct reflection of a good boss
Cultivating teachers for shared leadership roles can have a lasting impact on a school community and its climate. It allows school the SLT to tap into the expertise and experience of some of its most dynamic teachers and give them a way to share their skills with their colleagues. Teachers who serve as instructional coaches and mentors to their peers can have a far greater positive impact on changing instructional practice in a school.
In “Visible Learning”, John Hattie says that the inability of parents to ‘speak the language of learning’ can be a major barrier to student achievement.
If we are adopting new ways of learning and teaching, then perhaps we need new ways of engaging parents. If we were to develop some universal protocols then my top five would be :
- engagement with parents from the beginning. I found sending a letter or a phone call can make a huge difference.
- regular community forums and walk-throughs (parents need to see learning in action) – what about the use of blogs as a way of educating and engaging parents in the conversation. Our own Open Day this year was an example of this success.
- involve students in giving feedback to their parents on their learning. Student voice is always a valuable tool.
- demonstrating the difference new approaches to learning are making
- finding ways of celebrating good learning and teaching
- ensuring an outlet for parent feedback
Learning in today’s world is a journey, not a destination. As we build on what we know works and respond to teacher ingenuity and innovations from their own learning we need to ensure that the whole school community is on the same journey.
Know Thy Impact Teaching, Learning and Leading
My NAPP experience in 2013 has taught me that a great leaders set goals and I find those easy as I have always been a prolific list maker. This list of five goals will be on my desk as a daily reminder of what I am pointing to achieve. It sits alongside my daily ten which I try to stick to every day.
1) – I will have high expectations for students, staff and myself. I will help to empower others to take control of their own learning and development by establishing an environment built on accountability and I will support and encourage those with whom I work. I will work to embrace a sharing and collaborative school culture that takes risks in an effort to do great things.
2) – I will listen more than I talk. I will use my two ears more than I use my one mouth, and I will try to learn as much as I can from others. I will make it a priority to get into classrooms to observe on a daily basis, and I will learn by listening and observing.
3) – I will communicate with and involve parents and community stakeholders as often as possible. I will work with teachers and staff to keep parents informed and up-to-date with what is going on in our school through the use of weekly newsletters, our school website and social media outlets.
4) – I will base every decision I make on what is best for students. It is difficult to not get caught up in everything that is going on, but I will make every effort to put students and their needs first.
5) – I will have a healthy balance between my professional and personal life. Though I anticipate the high level of time commitment required for this job, I do not want my job to consume my entire life. My family, friends and colleagues will all benefit from this healthy balance.