I was recently asked to write my philosophy of leadership. Wait, what??? Now, trust me. I could talk your ear off, endlessly, ad nauseam, if you asked me questions like, "What do good school leaders do?" or "What have some of the best school leaders you've seen done to prove they were 'worthy'?" or whatever.
But add that word "philosophy", and now I feel pressure to tell you EVERYTHING! And nobody has time for my "everything".
This clearly is not everything, but it embodies the main pieces.
I'd love to hear your additions, thoughts, etc.
Blessings abound when I think about my experiences with leadership. And so the floodgates have opened. Here are my beliefs, supported by my own experiences as a school leader, professor, and presenter for continued professional learning on this exact topic. Oh! And I might have a fairly unique glimpse on what teachers believe about the effective actions, behaviors, and characteristics of school leaders, as this was my focus for my dissertation. You might say this entire “leadership philosophy” is my passion. Above all, I believe leaders should be passionate about continued learning forever.
First of all, from my dissertation, I learned that teachers said that effective school leaders communicate effectively with their stakeholders, show honesty and integrity no matter what, and show support and caring for their employees. I actually have qualitative data (anecdotal comments) from teachers who said, “I just want my school leader to be honest with me, but it would be nice if they could be respectful when they do it”. Maybe not surprisingly, at least five people wrote versions of the statement, “I just want to not be thrown under the bus during parent/teacher/principal conferences”. Others touted the importance of their leaders showing they cared about the employee as a person, asking about their personal lives in an authentic manner.
But I’ve also been blessed to have my own experiences as a mentor for other school leaders when I, myself, was a principal and to do the same for other professors in my role as a professor. I believe true leaders use the word “we” a great deal than the word “I”. Effective school leaders know they can’t run an organization on their own, so they surround themselves with people with multi-faceted skill sets. Good leaders know everyone’s name but, even more than that, care about what each person brings to the table. In short, leaders who are most successful are in the business of garnering consensus, dealing with inevitably arising conflict, and keeping the main thing the main thing. Or, as Stephen Covey said, good leaders “begin with the end in mind.” We have to keep our eye on the prize---whatever the goal of the organization, every effort should view everything through the lens of that goal.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for me, I believe the building of relationships is the ultimate key to the success of a leader. If people know you care about them and the work they do, they will continue to be motivated to be passionate in their own efforts. Inevitably, the leader is building capacity for leaders to arise among the masses.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” - John Quincy Adams
What do you think about the good leaders for whom you have worked?
On this eve of Christmas, you get two stories: one from my dear friend Dar Axtell, who allowed me to use her story in my blog this week. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is as generous as the day is long, and I am blessed to call her friend and colleague in the critical work we do with schools around the world.
Here is her story:
Making a Difference
In spring I became aware that a young man who has done some odd jobs for us in the past needed work. In March, he and his wife divorced and, since then, he has been living in and out of several shelters, friends’ basements, and even his car.
Throughout the summer he did work for us and other family members. I took him to the Catholic Diocese Immigration counselor, to a shelter for the homeless, and made numerous calls on his behalf. Finally, I just put a post on Facebook asking if anyone needed work done. Several days went b,y and on Monday, I got a message forwarded to me from a friend in Arizona about a woman in Green Bay who needed workers. I forwarded the message to my friend and he contacted the woman and started work this morning.
Of course, I was overjoyed, but as I was thinking about this I started wondering. “How does my high school friend from Illinois who now lives in Arizona, know a person in Northern Wisconsin who needs workers?" It turns out this woman was a foster child of his when she was young. She has moved to Wisconsin but remains in contact with her foster family.
I guess my point is that one person can make a difference. One family took in a child. A young man needed a job. Someone reached out to make connection and the circle became complete with the child in need of care now helping someone else who needed work. It makes me realize how connected we all really are and how important it is to make those connections with those around us.
Here is my own story:
Dave and I have been fostering Labs for the last four years. We have successfully fostered then adopted out 17 dogs, one who became a foster-failure because we couldn't give him up. Kirby has now been with us for almost three years. A couple of weeks ago, we got word that an extremely malnourished and emaciated dog from Nogales, MX was being transferred to a vet in Tucson. The prospect of her living very long didn't look very good, but we were immediately intrigued as she looks exactly like our old yellow girl named Rudy, minus any muscle mass or fat, and with a high possibility of kidney and liver failure that could end her life in a moment's notice. Over the last two weeks, the vet has gone from calling her condition "critical" to "guarded" to "improving every day". Dave and I have visited her several times now: the first time, she would not raise her head and we were told she couldn't walk. She had to be taken out to go to the bathroom with a makeshift belt to hold her up.
The second visit, we could visit with her in a room where they brought her in to lie down on a blanket. We brought cooked chicken to try to get her strength up, and her tail wagged. We believe we are now known to her as "the chicken people". We also brought one of the very few Christmas dog toys Kirby hasn't shredded to pieces. We want to get her to know the smells of her soon-to-be foster siblings---Kirby and Rudy. To say she gobbled up that chicken was an understatement. But soon, it was clear that she was anxious to get up. The vet tech, Dave and I walked her (on her own, by the way) out to go potty, which she did, both ways. She was soon worn out and we helped her back to her kennel where she immediately curled up with the toy. Today, I went to visit with more chicken. They are still concerned because her white blood count is still high and she still has to be on IV fluids. What I saw, though, was a whole different girl. She came walking in the room to see me, wagged her tail, and walked over to me to get chicken. Then, she and I lay down on a blanket together, where we commenced to talk about what life will be like when she can come home to us. We are thrilled with her progress. We love seeing her tail wag, and she is now lifting up my hand with her nose to pet her, if I set it down in front of her face. Is she all skin and bones still? Yes. Is she tough to look at? Perhaps, for some. I see a true Christmas miracle. Oh, and we named her Gracie.
Merry Christmas to all of you who have special stories to tell. I adore talking to you each week, and I feel so privileged and blessed that you care to read what I have to say.
God bless each one of you. Look for the opportunities to make a difference.
This week, I will be vlogging again, instead of blogging. Please, oh please, don't comment on the messenger's hair or lack of make-up but instead focus on the message HERE. Let me hear your thoughts about your own traditions, both at home and at school. I love the interaction!
May the peace of the Lord enfold you during this beautiful season, and know that I thank each and every one of you for being a part of my weekly "tradition".
If you talk to teachers today, many will tell you reasons they want to leave the field, low pay being one of the biggest reasons. See the aforementioned USA today article for the stats on the highest and lowest paying states, and there is little wonder why teachers are frustrated (especially in some of those really low-paying states). But low wages are not the only reason teachers are frustrated. Problems with teacher evaluation systems across the country (and, frankly, around the world) often force teachers to make the decision whether they want to continue dealing with a system that is fraught with issues of inequity, bias, and unfair warping of statistics. Close and Amrein-Beardsley (2018) talk about these issues in their article, particularly honing in on issues with VAM scores. Teacher trust in principals can either add to or hinder the culture of a school, as I researched in my own dissertation (Arneson, 2012). What I found out is that teachers felt that a principal's character and competence can either build or diminish trust from teachers, depending on the actions, behaviors and characteristics of the administrator. With that sort of knowledge, why do teachers continue to teach?
Here's what I think:
Teachers are still passionate about what they do:
No matter where I travel around the world (from Kenya to Colombia to the Yukon Territory and all around the United States), I hear teachers talking about how much they love what they do. Teachers still share great ideas with each other ("Hey, have you seen this great new website?"; "For a unit about government and economics I would take my students on a fieldtrip to the state capital (Sacramento). We would hold a campaign, campaign speeches, and an election in order to give students background knowledge about our state elections"; "I have incorporated math mysteries, in which students have to “crack the code,” by solving math problems"; " I love jumping into seats and joining discussions. Often when office aids or guest come in they ask, 'Where's your teacher?' "; "I can't think of anything else I would rather be doing!")
By the way, since Dave retired three years ago, I get asked all the time, "So when are you going to retire?" My answer is always the same, "When I quit loving what I do". So far, I can't imagine when that would be. There is nothing more powerful, as a university professor, than to get an email from a student after the course ends in which they state how much they learned from a course. While not everyone thanks me during the course for holding them to high standards, I just received this email from a student in my Education Law course that said, "Just thought I would drop a quick note to let you know how much I have missed you for this last class...just not the same and it seems like expectations are not as high. Thank you again for putting all of us on the right track. I think there are others who feel the same way that I do." I'll be honest----that is worth more than the paper the paycheck I get is written on.
My workshop participants and clients with whom I work also remind me of how pertinent our work is. One of the principals I taught recently told me, "I know you must really miss being a principal. We can all tell how much you loved it. But think about this: look at the number of principals, teachers, and ultimately, students, you are impacting in what you are doing now." TRUTH!
But no matter how passionate I am about what I do, the thing that gets me choked up the most is when I tell the teachers that they truly are impacting the next generation and that Dave and I thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
Just for today, I pray that, if you are a teacher, you know how very much you are appreciated. And, if you aren't a teacher, I pray that you take time today to thank a teacher who impacted your life, whether it was your Kindergarten teacher, middle school teacher, college professor or doctoral professor. It matters.