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