Wednesday, October 26, 2011

School Leadership Maxims

School Leadership Maxims
As a school leader, you constantly make decisions that have an impact on the operation of your school.  Over time, you may notice a set of guiding principles emerge.  These constitute your school leadership maxims.  Your school leadership maxims emerge from the combination of many factors; among which the most influential are your beliefs, experiences, vision, and mission.


More than just statements, beliefs must represent conditions of willingness to take action.  Beliefs are only as powerful as they are accepted as true.  Whether based on current research or personal observation, what you believe about school leadership should have a significant impact on your actions as a school leader.


Eventually, we come to understand what works for us and what doesn't by experience.  As one of my professors told us, "There is no substitute for on-the-job training."  Experiences shape our maxims as we encounter new variables to apply our decision making.  The foundations we used for good decisions that had positive outcomes are more likely to be repeated than the principles used to make bad decisions with poor outcomes.


Your vision is your statement of a preferred future.  If all things were operating at their optimal level, what would it "look like?"  Of all the hallmarks of effective leadership, having vision and compelling others to share that vision is among the most widely accepted characteristics.  Your vision describes where you are going, what each person's role is in getting there, and what outcomes are expected as a result.


Your school may have a mission statement which guides its overall operational goals.  For organizations, missions are important if they can translate into actions.  Effective schools often have clearly aligned missions and operations.  If those two are not in sync, confusion and ambiguity is often present.

On an individual level, mission is often overlooked in terms of its impact on leadership.  While school leaders more often ask, "What is our purpose?" or "Why do we exist?" in the context of the school as a whole, it is less likely that school leaders ask themselves those same questions.  Having a clear sense of your personal mission is a powerful component to the development of your maxims.  Strong beliefs, a compelling vision, and quality experiences are certainly important, but adding a clear sense of personal mission into the formula helps maintain focus and keeps your efforts meaningful.

Examples of School Leadership Maxims

One of the aspects of developing leadership maxims is that you can always add to them as you refine and revisit the factors listed above.  Below, I include some of my own school leadership maxims to serve as examples.

As always, you are welcome to share your own by leaving a comment.

Dr. Troy P. Roddy's School Leadership Maxims

  • Nothing school related is more important than the student standing in front of you.
  • When in doubt, the student comes first.
  • School policy is not intended to serve "the exception to the rule."  If it did, the exception wouldn't exist.
  • Working harder is not the same as doing more work.
  • If choosing between working harder and working smarter, work smarter.
  • If it is important to say, it will still be important in a few seconds.
  • Be better, daily.
  • Information serves individuals, sharing information creates knowledge, knowledge influences your future.
  • The primary function of the schedule is to support learning.
  • In all things, recognize effort and growth.
  • There is no teaching if there is no learning.
  • Everything learned was also taught, but the "teacher" need not always be a person.
  • Meaningful learning happens when content mastery meets skill building.
  • If you do not invest in understanding your team, you cannot serve their needs.
  • The teacher who says nothing is often saying the most.
  • Never assume failure, but always ask "Why would this fail" while planning.
  • We learn from mistakes.  School are about learning.  If you cannot find areas to improve, you are mistaken - now, what did you learn?
  • We expect students to change as they grow and develop.  The same expectation should be placed upon the school.
  • Mistakes are not necessarily bad.  Not learning from them is.
  • Tradition and ceremony are powerful elements of school culture.
  • Find time to allow teachers to stay motivated.
  • Be friendly, responsive, and interactive.
  • Planning is only as valuable as you are willing to take action.
  • Begin all planning with the end in mind first.  Define your "shipping date" and work backwards.
  • Rarely does anyone complain about too much communication.
Additional information about leadership maxims

Recently, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote an interesting blog post in which she writes about the process she used to articulate her leadership maxims.  If you haven't reflected on your maxims, her post may help jump-start your thinking.
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