Tag Archives: Leaders

My first Principal…

22 Jan


Here are a few things my first principal taught me on my own path to servant leadership:

  • Don’t take advantage of your title or positional power; instead, inspire by making them feel like an equal.
  • Share the vision and decision-making with others. Make sure followers have a seat at the table in important decisions.
  • Provide followers with all the resources they need so they can become better leaders.

While he was still my “principal” and expectations of my performance were high, I recall how much more satisfied and engaged I felt than at any other time in my young corporate career.

What was it about this professional relationship that worked out so well for me? It comes down to four leadership principles proven over time to build trust and loyalty in followers.

  1. He facilitated a shared vision. 

My first principal communicated an image of the future that drew us all in. It spoke to what his team (my colleagues) saw and felt.

  • Destination: Where are we going?
  • Purpose: Why do we exist? What greater good do we serve?
  • Values: What principles guide our decisions and actions on our journey?

When a vision addresses all three of these questions for team members, a tremendous amount of energy is unleashed.

  1. He shared power and released control.

If you want to foster high trust, risk-taking, creativity and open communication, but you’re still riding on your autocratic high-horse and instilling fear, consider getting off for the higher road of sharing power and releasing control.

This means allowing the freedom for others to experiment, lead themselves, stretch, and make mistakes. This will unleash discretionary effort and your team will produce great results. That’s what happened to My first principal’s team.

  1. He put people in positions to lead.

Instead of leveraging his positional power for personal gain, self-promotion or demands for special privileges, My first principal put his people in positions of leadership to stretch their growth and develop new strengths and roles.

The return on this investment was watching a leadership culture rise up. Many of us got promoted to leadership roles, filling key positions internally.

  1. He pushed his authority down.

In highly effective organizations, there are leaders at every level, not just at the top. The solution is always to push authority down so you’re creating a leader-leader culture. This is what My first principal did exceptionally well.By the way it was not Michael Scott!!!

What are some good examples of leaders who share leadership? How do they do it?

More Leadership Reflections

1 Oct


I have worked under some amazing principals. In my years as a teacher, they have been very different, mentors of varying degrees, in different environments. Looking back now, I am SO thankful for how different. Above all else they encouraged me.

I’m a big note taker just ask my wife…so I have kept a list of the traits I felt made them so successful and hope to emulate this year. Here are some:

  • servant leader- the boss who puts everyone else’s’ needs before their own, who is willing to do what it takes to make others feel successful
  • big pictureR- one who sees the vision, who knows what they want the educational experience to be for their students
  • willing- willing to dance, willing to be Batman, willing to let teachers try
  • teacher friendly- someone who cares how decisions and changes affect teachers, not in the sense that they don’t make changes or tough decisions, but in that they care
  • tradition minded- recognizes what it looks like to build a legacy and maintains traditions that matter to students, parents, & staff
  • fun- from funny announcements, to jokes and stories in staff meetings, to running jokes with teachers from years ago
  • confident- able to step in and handle all different situations, with purpose, with heart, with decisiveness

Positive Learning Environments: Part Two

23 Sep


I suppose the key to these is the key competencies of our national curriculum and ensuring we are getting it right in the classroom.

  1. Focus a good deal of your teaching on “learning how to learn” skill development. Read up on how to teach study skills, learning to learn skills, research skills, inquiry skills. Make sure that your students grow both in terms of content they learn and the “learning to learn” skills they need to develop in order to learn well in the future.
  2. Make “asking questions” central to your teaching and to your learning environment and school culture.
  3. Give students more choices and options – in the classroom.
  4. Use inquiry strategies, research skill building activities, interactive learning and projects as critical parts of teaching. Incorporate more interest based projects into your curriculum.
  5. Where possible, make learning experiences more “authentic”. Ask “how does this relate?” How can you provide students with a concrete understanding of their future options? Can you take field trips to different places of business? Colleges and universities? Bring in speakers?
  6. Create more ways to integrate learning across the curriculum and consider ways to redesign the curriculum. When redesigning or renewing the curriculum, examine whether curriculum materials or programs have a significant component built around developing curiosity, motivation, relevance and interest.

There is little doubt there are lots of challenges here but it up to us as teachers to challenge ourselves to create authentic learning environments.

Where are the Curriculum Leaders?

19 Aug


Go onto Twitter or Facebook or any such site you will find people having their say on leadership. Thousands of books have been sold on the topic of leadership.  I have brought many of them. When you visit the library or search for an e-book, you can find topics about business leadership, military leaders, great sporting leaders, leadership wisdom from presidents, ethical leadership, and the list is limitless.

The field of education needs more curriculum leaders.  People know about curriculum leadership and some educators do a great job of leading their class or their team.  Curriculum leadership involves working with multiple people to ensure that the curriculum is aligned both horizontally and vertically.

When educators think of curriculum development and curriculum alignment, they often reflect on a time when teachers meet and discuss the nuts and bolts. What our system needs are people with greater vision. A flavour-of-the month approach to curriculum development will not support students or teachers and it creates a disjointed curriculum. It creates a culture amongst the team of yes “this will come and go, it’s only a fade.”

We need curriculum leaders who will challenge and advance pedagogy. We can all serve as a curriculum leaders. Ask yourself the following questions about your department:

  1.  What is Curriculum Leadership? (Clue: Its not about making sure everybody has textbooks)
  2.  Who are the Curriculum Leaders in our school?
  3.  What goals do the Curriculum Leaders have for this school year?
  4.  How will we measure progress towards the goals?
  5. How are we progressing right now with these?
  6. Do these meet with the school wide goals and my own personal goals as a teacher?

Lots to think about here but worth but worth putting these aside for a Departmental or Team meeting I think.

Under Pressure

19 Oct

There can be no doubt that this is a high pressure time of year for students and staff alike. As a leader in school it is up to keep things calm. One of my favourite sayings is “Let’s just get them home safely”

I have reflected often in this blog about the way I keep things calm. Today I do so again as we are in the midst of it all. Following are 5 things smart leaders do that transform pressure from a liability to an asset:

  • Who am I : Leaders must know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and where they will and won’t compromise. Good back to your philosophy or educational vision. You wrote it when things were clear and let it guide you.
  • Team: A leader’s job is to acquire and develop talent. Use the team that is around you. I think of Sir Alex Ferguson and those great leaders he developed at Manchester United. The better the talent, and the better you utilize talent, the less pressure you’ll feel
  • Keep It Simple: Complexity creates pressure. The best leaders look to simplify everything they can.
  • Focus: Focused leaders rarely feel external pressure. When I concentrate on the strategic plan and annual goals based on data it all becomes clear.
  • Did I train today: If the answer is no then that is probably why I am so tight. Leaders who don’t create time for quality thought and planning end-up taking unnecessary short cuts and risks. They let pressure force them into making bad decisions that a little whitespace could have prevented.

Leaders and Managers

15 Jun


A few random thoughts this week as week are in the midst of reports and I have read some intesting pieces in last week.

Good school leaders share the same qualities as good managers.  They are as CK Prahalad says ‘custodians of society’s most powerful institutions’.

I was reading Prahalad’s column in the 2010 Jan/Feb edition of Harvard Business Review, I was struck by the timelessness of Prahalad’s notes for managers (written in 1977) and St Ignatius Loyola’s principles for leaders (written in 1500s). I must recommend the publication.

For Loyola – successful leaders:

  • cultivate self-awareness and seek to understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses
  • innovate and adapt to a changing world
  • engage others with a caring attitude and tapping into their potential
  • energise others by setting the bar high.

For Prahalad – responsible managers:

  • are committed to their own learning and development
  • display humility, care and courage
  • are inclusive
  • realise the importance of loyalty
  • assume responsibility for outcomes as well as for processes and people
  • balance achievement with compassion and learning with understanding.

What lessons can principals learn from good managers and vice versa? It is something to reflect on this week. I know I am reflecting on the fact this year I am part of a Senior Leadership Team not a Management Team. There is a difference.

Mindful Reflection

31 May


It was a very wet and cold weekend here in New Plymouth and it provided me with a great opportunity to catch up on some professional reading. It was relevant to my current position and my NAPP experiences which I am frequently thinking about.

I came across the work noted below on “Mindful Leadership.” It was a term I have never come across. The book explains “Mindfulness is simply noticing the way things are. By being mindful you can transform your life, your organization, and even your community. The first step is to transform yourself.”

In summary this is what the author had to say:

1. Mindful school leaders are present. Simply put, it means they exist in the now, in the present. They do not engage in undue worry about the past or the future. Their energies are directed toward the current moment. That does not mean school leaders do not plan. It means they do not obsess with those plans, and they are not so attached to those plans that nothing else matters.

2. Mindful school leaders are aware. They are aware of their own inner life. In other words, they are skillful in the art and science of emotional intelligence. They know themselves. They never feel themselves overtaken and blindsided by their own emotions. Mindful school leaders know who they are, inside and out, and are not deluded into thinking more of themselves than they should.

3. Mindful school leaders are calm. They don’t panic. They face trying circumstances with control. Mindful school leaders act with centeredness and authenticity at all times. Their calmness is a natural part of who they are.

4. Mindful school leaders are focused. They “channel resources to accomplish priorities.” They concentrate on what’s important. Mindful school leaders know what’s important and they zero in on that.

5. Mindful school leaders are clear. It is this clarity of mind that makes it possible to make the best decisions. They understand their own motivations and why they do what they do. They, as Gonazales aptly points out, “know what is important.” Mindful school leaders exhibit a clarity of mind that fosters quality decision-making.

6. Mindful school leaders are equanimous. This is the ability to accept things as they are, not in the spirit of resignation, but simply to be at peace with reality. They do not spend time fighting fruitless battles. They do not engage in unrealistic expectations. Mindful school leaders are at peace with their reality.

7. Mindful school leaders are positive. They are a “positive force” in their schools or school districts. They understand leadership means serving others. Because of their positivity and service to others, they inspire those around them. Mindful school leaders act and live in affirmation and are an inspiration to those they serve.

8. Mindful school leaders are compassionate. They deeply care those around them. They know and understand and engage in self-compassion too, because taking care of self is important too. Mindful school leaders act with compassion, not in self-service and self-promotion.

9. Mindful school leaders are impeccable. As Gonzales points out, they aren’t perfect, but mindful leaders act with integrity, honesty, and courage. They accept responsibility for what they do and do not blame others for honest mistakes. Mindful school leaders always act with integrity, honesty and courage when leading their schools or districts.

Maria Gonzalez, Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others

Building a Popular Culture at School

24 May



As I progress through my NAPP year I am continually thinking about school culture. For school leaders, defining a school’s culture – the core values, practices and organizational structures – is a necessity. In fact, a school’s ability to improve performance depends on it. But fostering a performance-based culture is not something that can be completed and checked off a single to-do list; it is an ongoing. It is a process like so many thing I am reflecting on currently.

How do schools accomplish this? It’s all about objectives. High-performing schools intentionally create culture by introducing clear cultural expectations, and holding staff and students accountable to these core values. When clear expectations for behavior are established and reinforced – while allowing room for reflection and adjustments to these standards – a growth-minded, results-driven environment can be achieved

When setting expectations, clear communication is key. This is an issue that comes up constantly in my blogs recently. High-performing school leaders are effective in messaging that school is a place with specific standards that enable both staff and students to thrive. I often share the following example with school leaders and find that it resonates – unlike an elevator or a place of worship, where there are unspoken norms for behavior, new schools and existing schools that aim to rebuild their culture need expectations to be stated explicitly.

These values are upheld through established cultural elements that are consistent and visible from classroom to classroom. Such elements often include instituting a identifying one positive behaviors or mega-cognitive skill per month to highlight across the school, drafting guidelines on issuing rewards and consequences for student behavior and establishing school routines and rituals.


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