There comes a time in the life of every leader when we have to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and ask a fundamental question: “If I weren’t me, would I want to follow the example I set?” You know you better than anybody else in your classroom, school, or your home. You know your strengths and weaknesses as a person and a leader. And with this knowledge of who you are, what you think, how you live, you have the ability to make an honest assessment of your life- as a leader.
When I became a high school principal, I wanted to implement some of the ideas that Todd Whitaker shares in his book, What Great Principals Do Differently. In chapter fifteen he recommends that the leader communicate expectations at the beginning of each year. Following is a list of expectations I shared with my staff:
1. Respect-Respect your students, yourself, others, and the profession.
2. Communication-make contact with parents on a regular basis.
3. Manage Your Classroom-Be proactive by having clear expectations and be consistent.
4. Be Present-Being present makes a difference. Greet students at the door.
5. Be Punctual- Punctuality is a sign of respect.
6. Be Prepared- Prior planning prevents poor performance.
7. Professional Development- continue to grow; try new things.
8. Celebrate progress and achievement of your students.
As I think about what I expect from my staff, I’ve had to ask if I am meeting these same expectations. Some of the key questions I ask myself often, especially during tough times or times of transition are as follows:
1. “Are you punctual like you expect from others?”
My pastor has always said that punctuality is a sign of respect: respect for others time, talents, and responsibilities. This not only includes arriving on time, but ending on time as well. As of late, I have found myself arriving late to a meeting that I called! This is disrespectful and also has given permission for others to arrive late. This is not good and something that has to be corrected right now.
2. “Do you establish and honor the relationships you have with your staff, students, and parents?”
Dr. James Comer once said, “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” Positive relationships are foundational for true learning and upon reflection; I have some solid relationships with some of my staff while others need work on my part. I need to be “slow to speak, quick to hear, and slow to anger” James 1: 19 (KJV). At times, I have gotten in the way of establishing a positive relationship with some of my staff because I was either quick to speak, slow to hear, or quick to anger. In other words, I didn’t make time to “be there.” I had to ask myself, “Would you follow you?”
I always feel that I need to interact with my students and parents more. Principals like George Cuoros ( @gcouros), Eric Sheninger ( @nmhs_principal), David Truss ( @datruss), Lyn Hilt ( @L_Hilt), Steve Bollar ( @StandtallSteve), and Patrick Larkin ( @bhsprincipal ), are people I look to for ways to positively interact with students and parents. In addition to leaders in my virtual Professional Learning Network, I rely heavily on my strong administrative team. Each of them brings a wealth of experience and individual strengths that I tap into on a regular basis. Each leader in my PLN uses blogs and Twitter to highlight teachers, special events, and accomplishments of students in their schools. The more they recognize the accomplishments of students, the better parents feel about the communication that comes from the school. This, in turn, along with personal interactions, builds and maintains positive relationships with parents. Establishing positive relationships takes time, yet the benefit of creating meaningful and engaging relationships is critical to a leader’s success in seeing the mission and vision of the school come to fruition.
3. “Are you open to new ideas?”
This is critical to ask because of the current state of significant transition and transformation that’s occurring in education. Many of my teachers and students have innovative ideas that can make a huge impact on teaching, learning, and the school climate. It’s difficult to follow someone if the only response you hear is, “No.” A good leader understands the need to create a collaborative environment. Todd Whitaker, in What Great Principals Do Differently says it this way:
One critical difference was the effective principals viewed themselves as responsible for all aspects of their school. Though these principals regularly involved staff, parents, and others in the decision making, they believed it was their responsibility to make their school the best it could be.” –p.15
Yes, it’s the leader’s responsibility, but no one person can do it alone. New, fresh ideas are alive in many schools from other members of the school community. It should be a primary goal of the leader to help these ideas become a reality.
These are just a few of the questions I ask myself on a regular basis. Leadership is extremely hard, but it’s also very rewarding. We demand much of others and must also hold ourselves to the same expectations we have of others. So I ask you, “Would you follow you?”