School & District Management Opinion

A Challenge for the New Year: Leader, Know Yourself

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 05, 2016 4 min read
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Each educator has a responsibility to create the environment in which every student can succeed. Roles may be different, but the responsibility the same. However, it is the superintendent, in concert with the central office and building leaders, who hold the responsibility for leading a community of faculty and staff. Certainly, if a teacher is dedicated to that end, within that specific classroom, there are successes which can become foundational for future learning. But, success for students is a 13 year endeavor. It is like building a structure with Legos, one misplaced piece or one loose connection and the structure falls apart. It is that easy to lose a child in one year or one experience. Success requires each teacher and each leader to be engaged in the continuous process of learning, risk taking, and relationship building as professionals, all while responding to the needs of every child.

Priority vs. Urgency
Much has been written about the use of time and the role time plays in the life of educators. Blocking time in a schedule for observations, evaluations, meetings, email response, phone calls, discipline, building management, and sundry other tasks can help a school leader stay focused. The tasks get done and we are rewarded for that as accomplishment. Holding to schedules is a challenge in and of itself. Educators live in a reactive state where every issue presents as urgent and every person wants a decision now. One of the perils of our work is when we become masters of the reactive state. Eyes on the future give way to the pressures of the immediate and moments intended for personal reflection and thought fall away as self-indulgent, unnecessary or superfluous.

There are countless resources for how to do things differently. Books, blogs, conferences abound with new ideas, recommendations and strategies. The stress on the system that change brings calls for leadership that not only knows how to do the tasks, but also knows how to be a leader who can carry a community of children and their parents/guardians into a new and unimagined future. Truth be told, those who are personally risk averse might be effective at management tasks but they cannot take others into new territories confidently.

In their hearts, the principals probably know the truth--that they are not spending their time doing and getting better at the tasks that would bring about excellence. In many cases, they may even choose not to do them because, in the end, they are not so sure about how to do them well (Lemov’s Forward in Brambrick-Santoyo. p. xxii).

There are beginning questions that can help leaders better listen to and challenge themselves:

1. Am I asking teachers to make changes that I am willing to make myself?

  • Am I asking teachers to use technology I am not willing to learn and model myself?
  • Am I asking teachers to flip their classrooms and not flip my leadership?

2. How are my own relationships with

  • the board, community leaders, students, teachers, parents, and staff?
  • my family and friends?

3. What am I feeling about my work and what do I need to stay “work alive” with purpose and passion?

4. What am I feeling about the balance of my personal and professional life?

Is there time in your schedule for reflecting on questions such as these? Or is a better question, can leaders afford to not attend to questions such as these?

How is Time Spent?
Eileen Lai Horng, Daniel Klasik, and Susanna Loeb of Stanford University in their study, Principal’s Time Use and School Effectiveness answered a question about how principals spend their time. The results were: administration 27.46%, organization management 20.95%, day-to-day Instruction 5.88%, instructional program 6.73%, internal relations 14.64%, external relations 4.69, other tasks 18.68%.

The call to attend to issues of management and administration is almost always reactive. They may be vitally urgent, such as issues of health and safety, or they may be of perceived urgency, as response to policy, regulation, and mandate. But, do we notice that time for personal reflection and growth isn’t even listed? It must be in that other category if it is measurable at all.

How to Develop Successful Stainable Leadership
Ongoing personal development is essential for successful, sustainable leadership. We were heartened when we heard from a fellow educator that he was attending a Presencing Institute which grew out of the work of Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer.

The word Presencing means to sense, tune in, and act from one’s highest future potential--the future that depends on us to bring it into being. Presencing blends the words “presence” and “sensing” and works through “seeing from our deepest source.” See here for a glossary of terms that are commonly used in association with Presencing and Theory U.

We acknowledge that many who yearn for these opportunities aren’t in schools and districts that could afford the registration, travel and lodging costs. That is a sad reality of our work. But, we are entering a new year and all of us can consider creating new spaces in our lives. Leaders need to know what they will find if they dig deeply into themselves, because others often see what do we not mean to show. The value of spending time and attention on personal development is essential for professional success. We can no longer afford a system where leaders are merely successful reactors, preservationists who keep us surviving. That day has passed. The essence of leadership for schools now implies directionality and movement. It demands an articulated relationship with the future and the capacity to encourage others into a frontier that is exciting and, to some, frightening. It is a new year and it is exactly the right time for an internal scan to be sure that we want to undertake that journey ourselves.

Bambrick-Santoyo P. (2012). Leverage Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.