By Dr. Christopher Jones, Principal of Seekonk High School, Seekonk, MA
Leadership, as most of us realize already, is an all encompassing, time consuming endeavor that is also one of the most rewarding adventures one can ever embark upon. While school level leadership is the primary focus of this post, in reality it is applicable to all because everyone is a leader in some fashion. Especially when defined as the following:
Leadership is about empowering others to become their best. It is about service to others.
There are many pieces of advice on how to improve leadership. Personally, my experience has led me to focus on the areas that follow if I am to stay true to my ideal of serving in an effort to empower others and effect change. The title of this post is about reflection due to its importance. I encourage you to think about and reflect on the questions provided. I am always interested in your feedback so that I may improve.
Communication is one of the most difficult obstacles I have personally faced as a leader due to a misconception I held for years. I always felt that if I identified multiple ways in which to communicate, then those who were uninformed were to blame for their ignorance. What I have come to realize is that my misconception was not that uncommon and more of a mindset. When a person feels “out of the loop” it is about me; not them; and saying; “I communicated the idea so they just need to pay more attention” is akin to a teacher saying “I taught that concept so they should understand it” when a student fails an assessment. I do not accept that answer from a teacher so why would it ever be okay for me to use as a leader. I currently communicate through a host of electronic means. I also still meet face to face and deliver paper copies via the mailbox (or in person) to a few teachers. I used to think that this continued or exacerbated the issue of teachers not listening. I now say it’s better that they are informed because it increases their buy-in and collaboration. I consistently say that teachers must meet their students where they are at the present time. Now I practice that myself. Without clear, consistent communication in a fashion that is accessible to all; your vision dies, your mission does not get accomplished, and your core values remain unknown.
Ask Yourself: How well do you communicate your vision? How consistent and inclusive is your communication? Where can you improve your communication?
This is key for any endeavor a leader wishes to undertake. I could discuss the theory of collective intellect, but everyone knows that more individuals working together means more ideas and an increased chance of a better outcome. Instead I like to use Issac Newton’s phrase “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” No leader is an island and the quickest way to fall prey to our shortcomings is to not recognize them. Leadership is often filled with very complex and difficult decisions. The best way to make the most accurate decision is by recognizing the multiple perspectives that are part of each one. If a leader is to successfully innovative and adjust the status quo, it is always done best through collaboration. Use other leaders, students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the community to get varied viewpoints, perspectives, and information. Then move forward with the best ideas and solutions for an improved chance of success.
Ask Yourself: How often and when do you collaborate? Is it all the time with a wide variety of people? What have you done lately when you should have collaborated, but didn’t? How can you change that in the future?
Leading a school in today’s environment of growing expectations and responsibilities continues to be an increasingly difficult task. However, we ironically exist in a time where it has never been easier to innovate and change the status quo. Easy from the opportunity and availability of resources that is; because it is difficult due to the obstacles that arise from those who wish to stay the same. I have personally found that change is best enacted by explaining the vision and having individuals reflect on how they can and why they need to get there. Their answers inevitably justify the change you are attempting. This is still uncomfortable. Change always is for that basic reason. Organizations traditionally like to remain comfortable. To realize improvement, leaders must get their organizations to realize that both growth and change are uncomfortable. We ask students to grow and be uncomfortable every day in the classrooms. Therefore, we need to model the willingness to make ourselves uncomfortable to perpetuate positive change because people care little for what we say, but listen carefully to what we do as leaders. If you play safe and become complacent you fall behind. If you have struggling students, create that program by changing the schedule. If you need to improve culture, model the positive attributes you wish to see. If you think instructional practices have to change, model them for teachers as you teach their students. There will always be reasons to stay the same and fall victim to the idea of “good enough.” As leaders we need to see beyond those excuses to the positive growth and impact that can result.
Ask Yourself: What are you currently doing to improve the norm? What was the last innovative/creative change you have made at your school? What are you waiting to change before you can make a change?
Character is what guides us in the pursuit of our vision and what’s best for who we serve. The only way to build our character is through struggle. Therefore, it co-exists with vulnerability. If we are to truly be leaders who have a lasting impact on as many people as possible, we must accept, embrace, and share our own vulnerability. Doing so, not only shows others that leadership is a process rather than a destination, but also encourages through modeling. Leaders are continuously faced with struggle and negative influences that seek to change the direction of their vision. The only way to overcome these obstacles and continuously improve is through a strong character; the requirements of which is the willingness to decide where you want to be, honestly accept the authentic you, and then take it from there. In turn, the ability to build a stronger character is through the ability to fail recognize your vulnerability, understand the lesson from that failure, and get back up. This takes an ability to be intrinsically motivated by what you can be rather than what you are currently. That is why leadership and character are not about perfection rather, they are both about continually improving.
Ask Yourself: Where do you get your inspiration? How are you improving yourself so that you may improve others? Are you better today than you were yesterday? What have you struggled through to realize success? When should you have fought harder? How will you improve?
Leadership: Empowering and supporting others so that the vision you hold and care passionately about may be achieved through communication, collaboration, change, and character.
What do you care passionately about? Have you communicated that? Are you willing to struggle to achieve it?
Chris Jones is the Principal at Seekonk High School where he works to make his message of a purposeful, positive, and driven life a central part of the culture by focusing on the ideals of good character, responsibility, integrity, and inquiry. As a result of his belief that he is always learning, Chris’ main goal is to positively model continuous improvement. His wife (a middle school English teacher) and two children (8 and 10) are his support system and provide the inspiration for and confirmation of many of his beliefs and other posts. You can connect with Chris on his blog http://drcsjones.blog, through Twitter @DrCSJones, or on Voxer at drcsjones
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