Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Finding success as a new school administrator

Beyond polices, structures, and procedures, lie some key elements for success.  For new school administrators (either new to a school or freshly picked from the teaching ranks), these sometimes overlooked elements can be the difference between a successful year and one you would like to forget.

Sit in on "campfires"
One of the most important, and time consuming, aspects of a new administrative role is getting a solid grasp on the culture, values, and unwritten expectations of the community you now serve.  One of the best ways to quickly get a handle on these elements is to seek out the campfires and listen to the stories.  As in the larger society, the stories and myths concerning the school will send a clear signal about the values and culture.  Listen to these stories.  Who is the hero?  What did she do to achieve that status?  Is the hero still part of the community?  If so, seek them out and talk with him.

Teachers like to tell stories.  Do not make the mistake of avoiding them, seek them out, listen, and learn.

If you can't find any campfires, use faculty meeting time to ask teachers to share their favorite success stories from the school.

Work from strengths
An area that you should spend quite a bit of effort on early in the job is to determine the strengths of your school.  Once determined, make sure those areas are being well supported and leveraged to address areas of concern.  Remember, strengths can come in many forms.  It could be individual teachers, academic departments, specific programs, a prevailing sense of teamwork, attitude, mission, etc.  These are the linchpins of your school and need tending to and attention as much as the usually more obvious challenges.  

Addition by subtraction
Identify one element of the school's operations that teachers find cumbersome and restrictive.  Eliminate it with a better solution (one you gleaned from listening at "campfires" perhaps).  Sometimes, success comes in the form of eliminating a negative as opposed to introducing a positive.  Find a negative you can erase.

Engage with a mentor or coach
This works for any administrator, but especially for those who recently left the classroom teaching ranks.  One of the most widely suggested pieces of advice is to engage with a mentor or coach.  Finding someone within your school or district can help, but I also suggest finding someone outside of your school or district.  This outside perspective are very useful and will help you maintain a broad view of issues.  With the advent of connectable technologies, engaging with an external mentor is easier than ever.  

If you are seeking a mentor or coach, I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to serve in such a role.  Feel free to contact me if you would like to explore that opportunity further.

Develop an online network and contribute  
While a mentor can support you in a one-on-one conversation, finding and developing your own network of educational leaders online is another great way to engage with others who share similar challenges.  For me, using Twitter with the hashtag #edleaders is a good start.  Also, I am developing a Google+ circle of Edleaders (also using the #edleaders tag).  You can find me in both places Twitter (@drtroyroddy) and Google+ (Troy Roddy).

There are no guarantees of success.  However, following a comprehensive plan for learning, doing, and reflecting will give you an advantage.

Good luck.

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