Thursday, September 30, 2010

Leadership and Getting the Job Done

“Well done is better than well said.” – Benjamin Franklin

I ran across this quote while reviewing an old book on my shelf.  Given the recent national forum on education and the state of our schools, what does the wisdom of Ben Franklin offer us as a vision for educational leadership?

As an independent school leader, I am often engaged in committee or team meetings that concern the school’s future and strategic goals.  These meetings are valuable only in as much as the discussion translates into action.  Prudent leadership may require a thoughtful approach to designing action plans, but effective leadership results when the leadership team implements these plans in a manner that showcases the students’ educational experiences.

Many leaders can talk about a great plan.  Great leaders actually deliver the plan.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Laura Bush Is Unveiling a Bold Principal-Training Effort Today - District Dossier - Education Week

Developing solid educational leaders is essential to our schools.  I was particularly pleased to read the following from the article:  

“The certification program will include an emphasis on systems thinking and viewing leadership as responsive service, rather than a power mechanism.”

Both systems thinking and service leadership are part of a good leadership development initiative.  This is true for both public and private school leaders.

Laura Bush Is Unveiling a Bold Principal-Training Effort Today - District Dossier - Education Week

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Schools not making the grade, poll shows - Education Nation -

While the survey results are cause for some concern, the discrepancy between overall ratings and local system ratings is not surprising at all.  For example, Congress is receiving poor satisfaction ratings nationally, but when asked about their own representatives, most people are much more optimistic.  Case in point, this survey lists elected officials as the most to blame.

It was good to see that teachers wee not universally blamed for the issue, but rather the most important factor in making it better.

Unfortunately, teachers (as a whole) are not the best resource a school has at its disposal – the best trained, most passionate, and most dedicated teachers are the best resource.

Also, the school will only be as good as its leadership.  Whether at an administrative level or in the faculty lounge, we need to develop a stronger leadership capacity among our faculties.

Schools not making the grade, poll shows - Education Nation -

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Avoiding Difficulties, Ensuring Success

Educational leaders have a great deal of influence in how successful the faculty will be at a school.  The leader is also a primary reason why some faculties are put in to difficult situations.

Educational leaders put their teachers in difficult positions when:

  • The leader is not sensitive or responsive to the collective needs of the group.  Here the faculty risks being pushed when they should be refreshed.
  • The leader attempts to direct the work of the faculty in the same manner in which the leader directs the work of the administration.  Teachers may become confused with the direction and lack of clarity that may result from such an unfamiliar approach to communication.
  • The leader does not recognize when a program, project, or operation is being well managed.  This results in a leader undertaking responsibility for an initiative that should be left to the faculty, thus creating doubt in the minds of the teachers about the leader’s confidence in them.

Educational leaders ensure success when:

  • They recognize when its best to engage in program reform (out with the old and in with a new) and when to engage in program refinement (improving what is already in place).
  • They engage both groups of teachers and individual teachers in a manner that motivates each to ensure the school’s mission.
  • Everyone in the school is focused on the accomplishment of the same mission – from the last person hired to the first, from the janitor to the highest level of administration.
  • They are never satisfied with the current state of affairs.  Happy – maybe; satisfied – never.
  • They are fully capable and not “handcuffed” by other forces outside the school.

Be aware of your strengths and challenges.  Use those strengths as a foundation from which to address your challenges.  In the end, you will be the pillar of strength at your school.     

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Share your Strategies for Success

I am interested in any essential strategies you use to ensure success as either a teacher or administrator.  Especially if you work in private school.

Share your strategies for success here or send me an email.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Study: Teacher Bonuses Don't Improve Test Scores : NPR

Interesting article about a controversial issue.  If merit pay doesn’t improve scores, it also doesn’t make them worse.  I think the issue is more about recognizing the best teachers and motivating those who are underperforming.

The best in any field are not necessarily the best paid.  Drew Brees is not the highest paid quarterback (but is arguably the best in his field), the best lawyers are not necessarily the highest paid, etc.

Sometimes those who provide the most effective experience and are the most valuable are not the best paid or rewarded with cash incentives.

As with most challenges, there is likely no one solution.  Unfortunately, when we talk about public funds and the distribution of those funds, we are talking politics.

Maybe states with the better scores should get extra electoral votes :)

Study: Teacher Bonuses Don't Improve Test Scores : NPR

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Website is now available

Hello all,

My website is now up and ready for the public.  Please feel to visit and give me some feedback.

Thank you

Theodore Roosevelt on Learning

In his book, Theodore Roosevelt on Leading: Executive Lessons from the Bully Pulpit, James E. Strock begins the chapter on Always Learning with the following quote from TR:

“As soon as a man has ceased to be able to learn, his usefulness as a teacher is at an end.  When he himself can’t learn, he has reached the stage where other people can’t learn from him.”

I like this passage because it gets to the heart of good teaching and the “stuff” from which good teachers are made.  It also serves as a reminder to us that we are always improving and striving to attain the “golden mean.”

What the quote implies is that no one person is perfect and that we all can, and should, continue to improve ourselves.  The consequence for being complacent being unable to maintain effective and reflective relationships.

I am fortunate to have worked with an outstanding group of teachers and staff members.  I can certainly attest to their commitment to learning.  I am also lucky to have come into contact with so many parents and students who also embody TR’s sentiment in their lives.  It is from them that we, as educators, are motivated to continue this honorable work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Intellectual Capital, Seizing Upon Good Ideas, and Taxing the Energy of the Faculty

Mobilizing the faculty and staff to develop, nurture, refine, and maintain an environment conducive to success in schools should be done so with efficiently and sensitively.  A great deal of effort goes into making a wonderful school.  Much of this effort is spent in exercising the mind and calling upon the intellectual capital each teacher has built up over the years.  In a competitive educational climate, any area of the school that can be improved, refined, made more efficient, or provides greater value to the student and the family is critical.

Therefore, the leader needs to be aware of and ready to act upon good ideas as they are presented.  That is not to say that “anything goes” but rather when opportunity presents itself, one must be ready to act.  Schools also need to be on the lookout for opportunities presented to them from other schools.  One of the great things about great learning institutions is that they are always learning from others.  Expending countless hours in meetings to find a “unique” solution can often be counter-productive if, by doing a little  research, you can get a workable solution from modeling another school’s idea and shaping into one that fits your specific situation. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

The E-Textbook Experiment Turns A Page : NPR

Check out this report from NPR on iPad use in higher education.

As more colleges and universities experiment with these new technologies, how long before K-12 schools follow suit?  I am intrigued by the idea of replacing paper texts with iPad (or the like) devices, but are they going to actually improve student performance?

I currently have a few students who already bring an iPad to class (7th grade) and they seem to be following along very well.

The E-Textbook Experiment Turns A Page : NPR

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Establishing the Foundations of Educational Success

Educating others is the most honorable of life choices. An educated people serve to maintain and promote the betterment of society as a whole while setting the course for future development. Our best defense against the erosion of a civilized and virtuous society is education. Therefore, education should be examined and educational leadership should be analyzed.

Excellence in education involves many factors. These include, but are not limited to: leadership, communication, wisdom, and scholarship. Schools that are led by the most skilled leaders, clearly communicate expectations, make wise choices that are mission based and student centered, and promote an environment of vigorous scholastic inquiry will be very successful.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Defining Educational Leadership – an Exercise

Educational leadership can be a difficult concept to define and unless we have some common understanding of what educational leadership is, there is a chance for miscommunication.

In an effort to find that common understanding, I offer the following exercise. First, let’s define education. Then define leadership. Once you have both of those definitions in place, you can marry them in to a defined concept of educational leadership.

For me, I have used Joseph C. Rost’s definition for leadership from his book, Leadership for the 21st Century. He defines leadership as “an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes” (p. 102).

Next, I define education. Here I like to use my personal definition: “The experience of sharing knowledge.”

Finally, I put them together to come up with my definition for educational leadership:

“A relationship between, educational leaders, instructional staff, and students intended to:

  • Create opportunities for the exploration and the sharing of knowledge.
  • Influence real changes about the value of life-long learning.
  • Create strategies designed to build and promote a shared vision.

I hope this simple, yet powerful exercise is helpful in your own reflections about educational leadership.

Thank you and thank a teacher.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Management Points for Educational Leaders to Consider

Consider these items from Condensation of the Fourteen Points for Management by W. Edwards Deming.  How do they apply to schools?  How do they apply to you as the leader in your school?

1. “Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product…” (Pg 26)

2. “Institute training on the job.” (Pg. 27)

3. “The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job.” (Pg. 27)

4. “Break down barriers between departments.” (Pg. 27)

5. “Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.” (Pg. 27)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reflections on Leadership

One of the most enjoyable exercises I do is to look back on articles or books I have read and use parts of it to reflect on my own practice.  Below, I share a few quotes from past reflections for you to use.  Please feel free to comment and share.

The Nature of Leadership by John W. Gardner

1. “We must not confuse leadership with status.” (Pg. 4)

2. “Leaders come in many forms, with many styles and diverse qualities.” (Pg. 7)

3. “And the team must be chosen for excellence in performance.” (Pg. 12)

“Give Me A Lever Long Enough…And Single-Handed I Can Move The

World” by Peter M. Senge

1. “Learning organizations are possible because, deep down, we are all learners.” (Pg. 14)

2. “Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.” (Pg. 17)

3. “To practice a discipline is to be a lifelong learner.” (Pg. 20)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Leadership and Wisdom – Overlooked or Undervalued?

In my time, I have read countless articles and books concerning not just educational leadership, but leadership in general.  One trait of positive and effective leadership that I have rarely seen discussed is wisdom.

Many of us may associate wisdom with King Solomon.  One of the more famous tales of Solomon’s wisdom was when asked to settle a disagreement between two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child.  Solomon’s solution was to cut the baby in half.  When one of the two women protested and asked Solomon to save the child and give it to the other woman, Solomon knew that only the true mother would make such a sacrifice and awarded the baby to her.

Was Solomon wise or bluffing?  His willingness to kill was also recorded, so he very well may have followed through on his solution.  I guess the baby was also fortunate that one of the two women was actually the mother.  If we assume Solomon’s wisdom, then we must also assume he knew the answer before making his famous suggestion.

As educational leaders, is there a greater place for wisdom in our decision making process than we (or anyone else) give credit?  Do you have any examples of wisdom from your own school or from one you may have previously worked?  Is there a lesser or greater place for wisdom in leadership given the factors many of us face each day in schools?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to School

School has started up again and with it another year of challenges and opportunities.  As a school leader, what is your most important role early in the year?  How do you set the tone for students, faculty, parents, etc?

Feel free to share your best (and worst) back to school stories and suggestions.
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