So here we are, the 4th year of Dr. McLeod’s Leadership Day. As I considered this post and it’s eventual topic, I frequently came back to the image at right that Scott shared for us to include in our posts. The implication I kept coming to was that “Change is slow, let’s speed it up.” Thinking about a number of discussions I’ve had about Educational Leadership over the past few months, I’ve modified my interpretation of the image, and that led me to the three things I want to highlight for leaders who may be reading this post. I believe the operative interpretation of the image is “Real change is slow, let’s kick it up a notch.”
Last year, my Leadership Day post highlighted 8 pieces of advice I had for school leaders and administrators. Many of those focused on the relationship between leadership and technology. This year, I want to focus on three values that I think are important for 21st Century School Leaders throughout history and moving forward. These values do not simply revolve around technological progress in the current educational market, they are centered around taking a stand for real education reform in the coming years. My apologies if this post isn’t “technological” enough. Cutting to the chase:
There is unbelievable pressure for change in the educational world. In this day and age of standards, testing, and accountability every school year ends with someone somewhere saying “OK, so what will you do to make things better next year?” It’s not hard to imagine the question being asked on all levels of the educational spectrum. Teachers talking to students. Principals to teachers. Superintendents to Principals. School Board members to Superintendents. State level educational departments to Superintendents. Federal level Department of Education to state level departments. Change is not only encouraged, it’s expected. Unfortunately, that often leads to inconsistency. Policies and programs that are implemented one year, are discarded for different approaches the next year. Things that worked and were effective become part of the status quo, so they must go. One of the problems I see being generated by our current educational climate is “change for the sake of change.”
As an educational leader, it is important to maintain a level of consistency with your staff. If there is pressure from above to “change” consider how that change can happen within your current structure. There is no need to scrap programs that are working in an effort to incorporate the latest buzzwords. Nor is there reason to rename current programs to make them seem to fit the latest round of mandates. The same goes for suddenly focusing on a certain program/technological advancement/practice in order to vault yourself above a neighboring school or district. We need leaders in education who will not bend under the wind of “and now what?” We need leaders who will be consistent without being bull-nosed in the face of failure. We need leaders who can distinguish between what works, and what sounds good on paper.
The only way for our leaders to have that consistency in the current climate of “change” is for them to have a clear vision for the direction of their school and the educational community as a whole. That vision must be informed by the nature of today’s world. Our students must be successful beyond the skill and drill, recall oriented tests they are subjected to year in and year out. Our educational leaders do not need to have their Vision tainted by the desire to outdo their colleagues. When schools are compared to one another based on test scores and educational leaders begin to jockey for position ahead of one another in the eyes of the public, their motives become disingenuous and their integrity questionable. Yes, competition is important. Competition breeds ingenuity. Competition forces the bar to be raised. Our leaders need to tie those aspects of competition into their SHARED vision for the future of education. Too often, our Vision within schools is clouded by the short-term, limited to our narrow band of experiences, and not discussed with others in the profession. We need school leaders who will share their Vision, allow it to be shaped by those they work with, and the changing world in which we live. We need school leaders whose Vision is not clouded by the mandates placed on them from all around. Work within those mandates to see your vision through, or work to change those mandates to something that actually makes sense.
The first two values can only come about when our educational leaders are able to stand up for what they believe, in the face of pressure and adversity from above, around, and below. Parents are comfortable with the model of schools they attended growing up. Shifting that will bring pressure from one direction. Being consistent with policies and programs that work, while discarding those that are ineffective may be unpopular with your colleagues and superiors. It is far more difficult to explain at the end of the year why you stuck beside a program that had moderate success than to dream up an explanation for why the next new program will be the biggest success story your district has ever seen. It takes a brave person to come in with a vision for changes and to consistently maintain a path toward that future. Educational leaders however have never been a group to sit and cower in the corner. Constantly bombarded from all directions by those who “know how things should be done” our educational leaders have always been under pressure. We need educational leaders who can withstand that pressure, and at the end of the day justify why they are not spending unnecessary money on technology that looks good but won’t impact learning. Or why they are still allow experiential learning environments for middle school students, even if that means a non-academic field trip. Or why they will not be pressured into a new program when it goes against the vision they have for their school or district.
Consistency. Vision. Bravery. As an educational leader, can you even begin to fathom those being the three words people used to describe you and your career? If so, please share what you are doing with as many people as possible. If not…it’s time to kick it up a notch.