Leaders Are Agents of Change

If there is one thing I have learned in my twenty plus years as an educator it is this – The best leaders are able to influence us in positive ways regardless of how long we have been in education.  And there lies the beauty in what we do. Admittedly, most of what I believe in, model my ideas from, and emulate who I aspire to be like has been profoundly impacted by people I genuinely admire and respect. They are my “influencers.” They are people just like you and me who have shaped my fundamental belief system in what it means to be a teacher. Whether I have known them for years, months, or only days, the power of time and knowledge doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care. What it does care about is how another person’s words, beliefs, and/or actions move us to want to take our own action. In other words, they influence us and move us in a way that makes us strive to want to influence others in a similar way.  
For those of you who may not know, I am currently working on my Ed.S. with thoughts of someday leading a district as Superintendent. I often wonder whether or not the idea of taking the next step is the right move for me or not. Like many of you, I love what I do. Being a high school principal has never felt like a job, but rather a way of life for me.  That is what work feels like, like a way of life, when you find your passion. I recognize I have found mine as a principal. Why would I want to do anything else?
Because along the way comes someone who influences you in a way that makes you pause and reflect and ask, “what if?”  Well, that is exactly what happened to me on a recent visit to a neighboring school district. Last week I attended a district wide principal’s meeting at the urging of Dr. Tate, a Superintendent with whom I am currently completing my clinical for my Superintendent’s endorsement. He had shared with me a few weeks prior during a discussion that he leads a professional development session for his principals once a month. You heard me correctly.  He didn’t say “meeting,” he said professional development. I will admit his words caused me to ask a follow up question. “Can you explain what you mean when you say you lead professional development,” I asked?  “Yes, that is my time with my principals to teach and try and influence their thinking on leadership and teaching.” Dr. Tate shared.
Wow, I thought to myself. How refreshing it was to hear a Superintendent share something I felt should be common sense, but yet when he shared it, it seemed remarkably profound. So I asked myself, am I modeling that same type of leadership to my team and my teacher leaders? Although I wanted to believe I was , I must be honest and admit  sometimes I get caught in the managerial side of things that need to be done when you feel there is so much that needs to get done! Last week, I was reminded by someone I just recently met of the value in taking time to teach our leaders as well so that our focus never sways from what is most important – that we are agents of influence and that we must model teaching in order have the greatest impact on our students and staff.
Here are 6 things I learned from Dr. Tate on how great leaders influence other leaders:

1.  Purpose: If you are going to bring a team of people together, make sure there is a purpose to what you want to accomplish and communicate what it is you want them to take away from your time together. When your purpose is consistently clear, your team will walk away with a feeling of accomplishment and so will you.

2.  Focus: We must not lose site of the fact that we are all teachers so therefore, our focus should be on modeling what we expect our own team of leaders to do – teach.  Dr. Tate began his session with a table top activity where he posed the following question, “What do great leaders and great authors have in common?” He provided each table group with a list of book titles and authors and asked them each to research and identify the characteristics these authors had in common with great leaders.

3.  Share the Positive: We must recognize that the positive stories we are writing in and about our schools can sometimes take months and even years to develop and write. Dr. Tate warned his team not to get wrapped up in all of the problems and things that are not going well. Stay committed to the positive and even the smallest of victories that occur each day in your buildings. Dr. Tate asked each principal the following question – “What is one great story you can share about your school community?” After each principal shared a positive about their school, the other principals broke out in applause. What a wonderful culture of support that has been established that builds community and states, “we are one team!”

4.  Honor a Teacher: How many times have a team of leaders at the building level come together to talk negatively about a teacher’s performance? Or perhaps you have observed his happen at the district level where building level principals are questioned about their decisions or practices in a negative manner by members of the central office? Let me tell you how refreshing it was to have a Superintendent ask the following question of his building principals – “Talk about a teacher that has made tremendous progress this year?” Enough said. A great leader recognizes his success depends on the success of his teachers and/or principals. Substitute the negative talk with positive success stories in order to model and cultivate the culture of excellence we all strive for in our buildings/organizations.

5.  Reflection: The fact is many of us in leadership roles don’t take enough time to reflect on the things that are going to help us improve our organizations. We dwell too much on what is not working rather than spend time reflecting on what we can do to make it better. Dr. Tate expressed the importance of a Daily 5 – taking a mere 5 minutes after a problem has been resolved to reflect and write down how we can manage it better for future reference. This simple process can take leaders to another level when it comes to staying ahead of issues that can sometimes deter us from more meaningful tasks. Dr. Tate’s question to his team was, “Tell us how you personally have grown as an instructional leader this year?”
Note: Dr. Tate had asked two principals in advance to come prepared to present a positive story where they had influenced change in their school.  What a great opportunity to teach, develop & build a culture of shared leadership.

6.  Learn From Your Team: To a fault, I sometimes get caught in feeling like I have to have all of the answers when in reality, I don’t. None of us do. But sometimes the pressure to solve all of the problems clouds our judgment and we forget that we can rely on our team to guide us through these challenging times. Dr. Tate provided a district achievement goal matrix to his leadership team and asked them to review the document and share what was being done, what was not being done, what was working well, what was not working well and what if anything needed to be added or eliminated. In other words, he was asking his team for their help and input and they were helping him develop a district goal plan that he ultimately would be held responsible for, yet he trusted his team to help him develop it.
I have known Dr. Tate all of a few months, but listening to him and watching him lead has already had a profound impact on me as a leader. After a lifetime in education, I am reminded again how we must allow ourselves the opportunities to be influenced in positive ways if we aim to inspire others in a similar way to be impacted by our words, our beliefs and/or our actions.
I am blessed to be surrounded by outstanding educators (both in my school community and through twitter) who shape and influence my thought process on a daily basis. I am sincerely honored to be a part of your circle of greatness. Thank you for being the change!
So ask yourself, how are you allowing others to influence you in positive ways?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

“The key to being a successful leader today is not authority, it is influence.” – Kenneth Blanchard

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23 Comments

  • Jason Kline says:

    Always inspiring! Thanks for more great thoughts.

  • Dan Butler says:

    Another great one, thank you for your passion, purpose, and pride, friend. Love the instructional and team focus of Dr. Tate.

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Thanks Dan! I have been genuinely impressed with Dr. Tate’s leadership style. Not easy trying to lead a large comprehensive school district with multiple schools and multiple leaders. I loved his focus on modeling teaching, learning and building capacity during my visit. I went to watch how he handles his PD and I walked away with my own PD! -jimmy

  • Hal Roberts says:

    If you are going to #ISTE2014, this is what my Ignite presentation is about. My whole purpose is to teach – teachers in as many ways I could think. It is also what I’m presenting at the conference in Frisco where you are keynoting.
    Love the post my friend

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Hal – yes, I will be attending both. Can hardly wait to meet up with you. I will be looking forward to your presentations! Another great opportunity to be influenced by a great leader. Eager to learn from you my friend! -jimmy

  • Jimmy
    We all need a Dr. Tate in our lives!
    As usual, great post causing reflection, affirmation, and inspiration!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Mike – I feel fortunate to be doing my clinical under Dr. Tate. A great reminder how much I have yet to learn or be reminded of best practices. The learning process never gets old, especially when you feel like you can pay it forward with other educators you respect and admire. There are many days when I wish I could have more opportunities to learn from you and Jeff, but for now, I will take what I can get. – jimmy

  • barry saide says:

    Great stuff, my friend. Thank you for sharing.
    My struggle is with #3. Sometimes I wonder if my finding the positive I lose sight of the bigger picture. Though, living in the positive is more fun 🙂 Time for my daily 5. 🙂

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Thanks Barry. I believe what Dr. Tate was getting at it here was that he sensed the stress in his leaders as the school year is coming to a close. As you know, leaders take a beating sometimes and they just get worn down and it is easy to start thinking about all of the challenges facing us and lose site of all of the great things going on. The piece I really appreciated is that in large districts like this, many administrators are unaware of what is going on in other buildings in their own district. This is a great way to build a sense of community, a team, and pride in the work of your colleagues, knowing that you are all in it together to support kids and their learning as well as each other. Thanks for taking the time to comment on the post! – jimmy

  • Dennis Schug says:

    Jimmy, your reflective leadership is what clearly distinguishes you! To read how you’ve accepted Dr. Tate’s mentorship reminds us that being a “learning leader” requires us to approach every situation as one in which we can grow.

    I relate to the six points you’ve outlined, but the one I most appreciate is #6. My instructional team teaches me so much, because I’ve started taking my own advice:

    Approach every new learning opportunity with an open mind.

    As a result of taking the advice I typically give out, I’ve gained perspective and I continue to grow as a leader. I’ve seen our Vision challenged and I’ve seen it reflected back from our team. I’ve also adapted my own thinking, after considering the wisdom of the team. When we are open to learning, we discover opportunities in places we may not have expected to find them. This supports our own leadership capacity and feeds a school-wide culture of learning.

    Jimmy, as always, thanks for the inspiration!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Dennis – Thank you my friend. As leaders, we are always striving to make an impact, but often the impact is greater when it comes from a collective group. It is important to recognize that there will be times when decisions need to be made quickly and decisively, but if trust has been gained those decisions will still be supported, especially if your team believes that adjustments will continue to be made that is in the best interest of everyone involved. Thanks again for being a part of my circle of excellence. No better way to learn that from this collective group of great minds! – jimmy

  • Cory Radisch says:

    Jimmy always great to read your reflections. No doubt, if you ever have the opportunity to lead a district you will do great. Your post can be of value to all regardless of title. Leaders create more leaders. Moreover, we definitely need to celebrate more in our profession. Too many who don’t know about the daily miracle moments that happen in all schools. I wrote about that in this post that I would love your feedback http://cradisch.blogspot.com/2013/07/you-dont-need-title-to-change-culture.html Have a great Memorial Day

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Cory – thank you. Really enjoyed your post and it is obvious others do too based on the feedback you received. Keep up the great work. You are right, every day in schools we have opportunities to be a part of life changing moments! We just have to make sure we see them and and appreciate them. Take care – jimmy

  • Lee Kolker says:

    Great thought Jimmy. Go for it.

  • Thanks for the Monday inspiration. I, too, desire, the time devoted to sharing what WORKS and focusing on the positive instead of living through a series of checklist events. Sometimes I sit in my office or walk in my hallways and think, ‘Wow, I am the luckiest person on earth to get to be the leader of these talented people and bright little stars!” Then I get motivated to go back in and learn more, do more, reach out for more, and push for our kids. They deserve it. Thanks for being my PD most days and as you said in #3 part of the “team that I learn from” 🙂 The good news is I plan to do #4″honor a teacher” this week as I do my end of year coaching meetings with each of my staff members. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Jimmy Casas says:

      Lisa – thanks for taking the time to comment. You are a talented and wonderful leader. Although there are days when some of us may feel like our work is not appreciated, the truth is, most people are paying attention and do see it. I saw a quote today that reminded me of you. It read – “If you are going to be a pioneer, just realize you are going to have to spend periods of time serving as an outlier.” How true this is. Keep striving for greatness Dr. Stevenson! Remember, that is how you earned your title. Proud of you! -jimmy

  • Thanks Jimmy for this reflective post! When leading my team meeting, I try to ground our work in purpose. This helps when sometimes it seems like we don’t get much accomplished. I try to remind my team the work is all in the process. Can’t wait to connect with you again at #ISTE2104.

  • Ben Gilpin says:

    I really appreciated this post. Sometimes I need my views to be expanded, and this post did that. I have a tendency to get stuck in the thought that most leaders do things in a similar way. Clearly they do not. Dr. Tate truly sounds like a trailblazer and I’m sure his team reaps the benefits.

    The one part that I’m going to immediately take away is, “Sharing the positives”. At our Admin meetings we always have this opportunity, but I sometimes feel reluctant to share. I need to change this immediately!

    Thanks for the push…

  • Excellent post Jimmy! Much needed words for today’s education leaders.

  • J Bauer says:

    Jimmy, thank you for another inspiring and definitively positive post. As a teacher, I hope to have an admin that approaches his/her teachers with these points. As a teacher, I try to utilize these points for myself and for my kids. It’s a win-win!! -julie

  • Erin Klein says:

    Jimmy,

    What great post! Such inspiration. I always appreciate your positive outlook.

    Warmly,

    Erin

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