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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

Debunking 5 Myths of Self-Awareness in School Leadership

There is nothing soft about developing the trait
By Peter DeWitt & Michael Nelson — March 03, 2024 5 min read
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To many leaders, self-awareness conjures up images of people holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Although there is nothing wrong with singing and holding hands. The ability for leaders to understand their strengths, weaknesses, emotions, and impact on others is a critical aspect of effective and impactful leadership. Having a high level of internal and external self-awareness can help leaders make moves that are much more intentional.

Unfortunately, when it comes to leadership self-awareness, several myths enter the story. In a previous post, we focused on the myth of walk-throughs, which you can read about here, and watch here. In this post, we will explore and debunk five common myths around self-awareness as they pertain to school leadership.

Myth 1: Self-awareness is purely introspective.

The first myth we need to dispel is the idea that self-awareness is solely an internal process. While introspection is undoubtedly a part of it, self-awareness also involves external feedback and observations. Effective school leaders actively seek input from others, including colleagues, teachers, students, and parents, to gain a well-rounded perspective on their leadership style and its impact on students and staff.

Self-awareness in school leadership requires a willingness to receive constructive criticism and feedback. It involves listening to diverse voices within the educational community and being open to different viewpoints by others within their school community. By incorporating external input into their self-awareness journey, school leaders can develop a more comprehensive understanding of their strengths and areas for improvement.

Myth 2: Self-awareness can’t be taught or improved.

Another common misconception is that self-awareness is a fixed trait and cannot be developed or enhanced. In reality, self-awareness is a skill that can be cultivated and improved over time through intentional effort and critical reflection. School leaders can engage in various practices and strategies to enhance their self-awareness.

One effective approach is journaling, in which leaders regularly document their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. In our workshops, we often use interactive notebooks to allow educators to learn and reflect at the same time. This practice encourages self-reflection and helps leaders identify patterns in their behavior and decisionmaking. Additionally, seeking feedback from trusted peers and mentors can provide valuable insights into blind spots and areas for growth.

Professional development opportunities, such as leadership coaching and workshops, can also support school leaders in developing their self-awareness. By actively investing in their personal growth, leaders can break free from the myth that self-awareness is a fixed trait.

Myth 3: Self-awareness is only about identifying weaknesses.

Contrary to popular belief, self-awareness is not limited to recognizing one’s weaknesses. While acknowledging areas for improvement is an essential aspect of self-awareness, it should not overshadow the recognition of strengths. Effective school leaders have a balanced view of their abilities and limitations.

Focusing solely on weaknesses can lead to a negative self-perception and hinder leadership effectiveness. Self-aware school leaders also celebrate their strengths and leverage them to benefit their schools and communities. Recognizing and utilizing strengths can boost confidence, inspire others, and enhance overall leadership impact.

Myth 4: Self-awareness is less important than academic or technical skills.

This is one of our favorite myths. In the world of education, the emphasis is often placed on academic and technical skills. While these skills are undoubtedly valuable, they should not overshadow the significance of self-awareness in school leadership. In fact, self-awareness can offer the tipping point that enhances the application of academic and technical knowledge.

Self-aware leaders are better equipped to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics, build meaningful relationships, and foster a positive school culture. Their ability to empathize, communicate effectively, and adapt to change is often what sets them apart as exceptional leaders.

Academic and technical skills provide a foundation, but self-awareness is the glue that holds it all together. It enables school leaders to lead with emotional intelligence, make informed decisions, and create a supportive environment for both students and staff. Therefore, it’s essential to recognize that self-awareness is not a secondary skill but a cornerstone of effective leadership.

Myth 5: A high level of self-awareness guarantees effective leadership.

The final myth we need to debunk is the idea that a high level of self-awareness guarantees effective leadership. While self-awareness is a critical component, it is not the sole determinant of leadership success. Effective school leadership also requires a combination of other skills, such as vision, communication, and problem-solving.

Leaders who rely solely on their self-awareness may become overly cautious or hesitant, fearing that any decision they make will be influenced by their own biases. It’s important for school leaders to strike a balance between self-awareness and action, using their insights to inform their decisions rather than paralyze them.

In addition, leadership effectiveness depends on context. What works in one school or district may not be equally effective in another. Therefore, school leaders must adapt their leadership style to the unique needs and challenges of their educational community, even as they draw on their self-awareness.

Call to Action

In the realm of school leadership, self-awareness is vital but often misunderstood. By busting these five common myths, we can promote a more accurate understanding of self-awareness and its role in leadership. Self-awareness is not purely introspective, can be cultivated, encompasses strengths as well as weaknesses, is equally important as academic and technical skills, and does not guarantee leadership effectiveness on its own.

School leaders who embrace self-awareness as an essential part of their leadership journey can enhance their impact on students, teachers, and the entire educational community because they are doing the work to understand how to be more intentional in their actions. It’s time to recognize self-awareness as a powerful tool that, when combined with other leadership skills, can help shape a brighter future for education.

How do you develop self-awareness? Connect with us on Instagram to give your suggestions or even your feedback on leadership self-awareness. After all, we can’t just write about feedback if we don’t seek it ourselves.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.

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