Saturday, December 20, 2008

Leading With Heart

Why is it that so many school leaders or administrators are viewed as being far removed from the classroom and children? If you ask the teachers "in the trenches," many have the perspective that administrators have long forgotten what it is like to be in a real classroom with kids. Sadly, administrators are viewed as being leaders who are not grounded in what is the true reality of teaching kids in today's world. Whether they seem to impose impossible goals and objectives for teaching learners who are far different from those of ten or even five years ago, or they are seen as the omniscient voice who imposes regulations from a lofty existence, many leaders are viewed by both teachers and students alike as people who have no idea what it is like to be a student in today's world.

Faye Wattleton, the first African American and youngest president of Planned Parenthood, once said, "Whoever is providing leadership needs to be as fresh and thoughtful and reflective as possible to make the very best fight." This is an important aspect to address in regards to educational leadership today as, in schools, many leaders are so occupied with the immediacy of things that take place on a daily basis that they have little time to devote to true leadership. Sadly, the nature of educational leadership, especially for those in building leader positions, is often occupied with "putting out fires" or managing crises that arise at any given moment.

However, the recent focus in educational leadership is for those in building and in district office positions to become instructional leaders. Lord knows that instructional leaders are what is needed in schools today, but finding and managing the time to devote to being a true instructional leader is something that many administrators, including myself, struggle with on a daily basis. How does one find that balance in being a manager of operations and being an inspirational and effective leader?

A friend and educational leader from Western New York, Theresa Gray, has written a recent post that is very provocative which addresses this concept of leadership being a difficult balance between leader, manager, and mentor. It is this balance that I struggle with each and every day in my new position. I need to manage the curriculum, departments, and grade levels among several buildings while building relationships with school administrators and teachers along the way. I must inspire all staff and leaders to reflect on their practices and help them to find new ways to be open and willing to learn new approaches that will challenge the status quo in order to improve student engagement and achievement. I must find ways to help others see the value in analyzing data to improve daily classroom practices in effective ways that result in real world applications for kids who can see the relevance of their classroom learning that applies to their own lives.

Why is that most teachers, parents, and, sadly, our students think that educational leaders have forgotten that what we do is ultimately about kids? How can leaders like myself impress upon teachers, parents, and students that we have not forgotten that what we do is in the best interest of our students? I vow to work to re-establish this ideal in the minds and hearts of those I serve...the teachers, the parents, and most especially the students. Albus Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, "A child's voice, however honest and true, is meaningless to those who have forgotten how to listen." Well, it is high time we started listening to children and begin to identify their needs and meaningful ways to address them. My New Year's Resolution is to listen more closely to children, parents, and teachers in an effort to understand their needs as learners and how to serve them best.


Linda704 said...

Wow, Kate, this post is the mark of a reflective practitioner! While I don't have an answer for the questions you pose, I can relate to your thoughts. Although I am not an administrator, I am an instructional leader of sorts as a Literacy Coach. I've been away from the classroom for 12 years now and I work hard to maintain the types of relationships with classroom teachers that I hope will convey that I have not "lost touch" with what it is like to be "in the trenches" as they are. Sometimes it's a delicate dance.

eduguy101 said...

Okay Kate, you hit the nail on the head. I spend so much time putting out fires, some of which are due to my activities as an instructional leader (the initiative that ruffles feathers, the meeting using data that shows the facts that we may not want to recognize as reality, the observation that reveals room for growth). It is easy to forgot to listen to the children.

I spend time each day (knowing full well I will need to make up time that evening) talking with children, and visiting classes.

A true leader needs to cover all facets from managerial to instructional. This is a delicate balance, but it is all about the children.

Your resolution is an excellent one, your success with that will reap rich benefits for your staff and the children.

Mrs. Anderson said...

What a thoughtful post Kate. I truly appreciate your desire to do right by your students, staff, and parents-a fine line-as you've discussed. Your commitment to the art of education is obvious; in or out of the classroom you are truly an asset to the profession.

On a side've mentioned your desire for brevity in your posts; however, your insights are so well articulated and conversational that length is not an issue. Your writing style comes across as a discussion with an old friend (don't change a thing!)

Adam said...

Ouch, that stings!

Trying to balance between manager and educational leader has become a crisis in my development as principal/leader in my middle school. Unfortunately, my school and district is in a declining enrollment trend and the belt has been cinched pretty tight.

Part of my personal growth plan for 2009 is to get into half of the classrooms twice per week.

I once heard that if you don't take the time to write your goals they are more like wishes spoken in the wind. If getting into classrooms and building relationships with people is a priority, let's challenge each other to write it down.

I don't remember the exact percent, but Brian Tracy once wrote: If we take time to write our goals and never return to the written document we will have an 80% greater chance of accomplishing those goals.

I hope Mr. Tracy understands that I'm just paraphrasing.

The power of the pen is obvious, get writing!