Leadership Q/A

A leader is someone who has a certain amount of expertise in a field and actively shares their insights with those around them through writing, speaking, and acting. Leaders take pride in teaching others how to apply knowledge and reach their full potential.

I believe a school leader has two main responsibilities: ensuring students have the best education possible and that students have a safe school environment (both physically and emotionally).

Becoming a stronger leader

Becoming a better leader takes time, patience, hard work, and a lot of dedication. For the last 25 years, I’ve had the good fortune of being a school and district leader. My experiences include director of digital learning and innovation and school principal. These experiences have led to nationally published articles and speaking engagements at state and national events. I want to take these experiences and answer all your leadership questions.

I asked colleagues and friends on Twitter to ask their most pressing leadership questions. I want to share their questions and my answers to support your growth in educational leadership.

Q: How do you create an environment where teachers welcome ongoing feedback? —Camron S., a media specialist in Chicago

Dr. J: Providing and receiving ongoing feedback starts with creating an environment in which it’s safe for teachers to take risks in instruction and unit development. Creating a culture where personality and risk are welcome allows your staff, and you as the leader, to comfortably open the dialog about education and teaching. Inevitably this shift provides direct feedback without teachers fearing discipline or a poor evaluation for taking a smart risk.

It is equally important that you model and provide avenues for two-way communication between staff and leadership. Leaders develop trust by encouraging teacher voice and acknowledging their ideas and contributions in a way that shows they are valued. This facilitates progress toward reaching organizational goals.

Q: How do you stay current as a leader with all we have to do day-to-day —Brian A., a principal in Ontario, Canada

Dr. J: To maintain your leadership level, expertise, and ability to teach staff new strategies or ideas, you have to stay on top of the changes that are happening around you. I try to learn something new about leadership or my role every day. Search for relevant articles (especially on @eschoolnews), educational writers, and publications that keep up with the latest research. Create a library of links and readings that will serve as great resources to help you learn and use new strategies. Check out Twitter chats and social-media conversations where you can pose a question to others in your field.

Q: How often do you feel it’s necessary to meet with your team without over meeting, and how do you reach agreement among a team who disagrees? —Brett L., a high school teacher leader in Providence, R.I.

Dr. J: I like to check-in with grade-level teams and support staff teams at least once a week; this can be done informally or through a formal meeting. If you are going to formally meet, it’s important to have a set and day and time to ensure everyone keeps that time sacred. Having this weekly time will allow the team an opportunity to get together and discuss challenges and best practices when leadership doesn’t have an agenda. Collaboration and communication among team members and leadership is critical, and having this collaboration and transparency will increase the chance the same message is heard. Additionally, teams can celebrate successes or come together in challenging times.

When consensus is challenging, I recommend finding common ground between the members who disagree. Having a strong vision for the direction of the school will allow you, as the leader, to stress the importance of the team goals and the implications of not coming together to achieve it. Once this has been established, I recommend focusing your energy and time on working together to come to an agreement that’s a win/win for both sides.

Q: We are always asking for more time as leaders; any suggestions? —Susan B., a middle school assistant principal in Virginia

Dr. J: Let me start by saying that the term time management is a misnomer. You cannot manage time; what you can manage are the events and tasks in your role as a leader in relation to time. How you use that time depends on the skills you’ve learned through self-analysis, planning, evaluation, and self-control. Much like money, time is both valuable and limited and it must be protected.

Set priorities before the day starts. Managing your time effectively requires a distinction between what is important and what is urgent. Once you have priorities, schedule your time appropriately. Scheduling is not just recording what you must do—it’s also making a time commitment to the things you want to do. Don’t forget to delegate. Effective leaders get help from others. Delegating means assigning responsibility of a task to someone else, thus freeing up some of your time for tasks that require your expertise. Finally, manage external time wasters. You can decrease or eliminate time spent on these activities by implementing some simple rules for yourself:

  • Avoid small talk on the phone
  • Stay focused on the reason for the call
  • Start and end meetings on time
  • Turn off instant messaging features on email.

The more uninterrupted time you get during the day to work on priority tasks, the more effective you’ll be.

Q: How do you get others to accept your ideas? —Carmon I., a student at Penn State University

Dr. J: In order to get people to accept my ideas, I talk about the benefits of my idea(s) and how to apply it/them. I stay open to other’s thoughts and change my ideas in a way that is agreeable to everyone. When you gain buy-in from others, you are much more successful in attaining your goals.

Send us your leadership questions

Thank you to everyone who sent me their questions. We received so many that we will continue to answer them in upcoming @eschoolnews articles. My hope is that these answers will support aspiring leaders in their continued growth in educational leadership. School leadership is predicated on the successful establishment and maintenance of a system of support to help meet the many challenges of the job; we hope that articles such as these provide the foundation of such a system.

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