Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Leadership--Creating Value (Dear Dan #1)

This year I have seen a good friend of mine making the transition from classroom teacher to school administrator. It seems like it was just the other day he graduated college and was asking me to prepare him to take the PRAXIS teacher's exam in Social Studies. After only a few short years he finds himself in school leadership. Every so often he asks me for advice. So Dan here are some thoughts...

Dear Dan,

I hope you the best in your career in school administration. I'm not going to say, you're a better man than me, because teachers are not wanna be principals. I love what I do and do not want to leave the classroom. Some are called to sitting in the principal's chair, such as yourself, and I think that is awesome too.

Besides, if I became a principal, the days of me wearing dungarees (aka jeans) and sneakers to school would be over and I would have to wear a tie. I hate ties. What's the point of a tie? What function does it serve other than to be used as a napkin during lunch?

One thing I appreciate about you is that you want to be in administration because you genuinely believe it is the best place for you to help kids.   I wish that could be said for all in administration. Some are there just because they love power. The power to tell people what to do is an alluring intoxicant.

I have been thinking a lot about leadership lately for many reasons. Here is what I know... I have served under some great principals, bosses, and pastors (when I was in youth ministry years ago), and the ones I appreciate(d) most...


A pat on the back and saying, "Great Job!" is just the rudimentary level of valuing people.  What I have learned, especially serving under my current principal is that:

"Great Job" is devoid of meaning 
without actions that show people you value them.

When my principal calls me, "One of the best teachers in the state", I don't get mad because it seems so trite (because he tells everyone on staff that), it means something because he TREATS me and everyone else like we are the best teachers in the state.

Here are 3 ideas that create an environment where people feel valued:

1) Have you created a forum where others feel comfortable to kick around new ideas to begin or improve on what is already being offered or are all your decisions unilateral or made by only a select few. When people believe their opinions are valued, they begin to constantly think of ways to improve; they will seek ways to be involved. If every decision you make is top down, people will not be invested in your ideas, ways to improve, or invest more of their time.

If you listen to the same voices you either have surrounded yourself with "yes" men or will fall prey to group think (where you can longer think outside the box and you will feel comfortable because "this is the way we always did it" rather than questioning "Is this the best way of doing it").

The others under your lead will trudge along when they have no voice.

For over ten years, I was a director for a week long camp for several churches in the NY-metro area. Every morning staff meeting ended with me asking what was working, what wasn't, what could we do differently. It didn't mean that I agreed to do everything they said, but since they were my eyes and ears with the kids, they could give me info and insight that I didn't have.  I always trusted their judgement.

(Some of my best times were serving at that camp.  Some of the people I worked with there are life long friends, and I miss spending time with the others.  I never saw myself greater than my counselors, always equal, just serving in a different role.  I hope that came across to them in my approach).

When people realize you trust their opinions enough to take actions on some of them, they will come to trust you when you reject the others (although they won't always be happy at the moment)

I have used the same technique as a baseball and soccer coach. At the end of each game I ask the team if they have anything to say, positively or negatively to improve for the next game.

Allowing opportunities for people to share their opinions on direction gives ownership to any organization.

It moves people from "spectator" to "participant".

It moves the view of it being MY team, to being OUR team.

2) When you are at a faculty meeting, what do you see? A sea of adult  "students" who couldn't tie a shoe without your guidance or a gathering of educational leaders?

One view keeps them subordinate to you, the other allows them to grow with you.

Who provides most of your inservice? If you are constantly relying on people from the outside, what does that say your thoughts are about your staff.

No presenter has EVER said anything that was so earth shattering that someone in the room hasn't thought or tried it before. We just don't have the time to share what we do in the classroom with one another because we are rarely given the time or we don't have the time to promote what we do.

(And I guess people would rather spend thousands of dollars on an outside "expert" or maybe they just trust them more than the people they have)

Your school is FILLED with experts. I don't care if the speaker spends 3 hours or 3 months with your staff.  Your staff is going to trust and listen to a person who has shared their struggles and joys for years with them more readily than someone they have just met.

It will also show to your staff, that you VALUE their leadership because you VALUE THEM!

If you are not willing to allow your own people, the ones who are in the trenches with you for years, to rise up to leadership within your building and instead you constantly promote some other person as the "expert" than you devalue your people.

If you aren't creating leaders, then you are just extending the age of the "children" under your care.

If you aren't creating leaders, you are not doing you job.

3) Who do you spend your time with? Some leaders spend time with other leaders. They can't get their hands dirty talking with the "pawns", when the King, Queen, and Bishops are around.

You may need the higher ranking pieces to "win the game", but its the pawns who are willing to do the "dirty work" are who put you in the position to "win the game".

In chess the piece moves because you want it to, in real life, the piece has to want to move.

Be someone that people WANT to follow 
rather than someone they are FORCED to follow.

Continuing being you.

Continue spending time with the kids, spending time with the staff. Again, it is a display of what you VALUE.

And don't listen to people who say a principal needs a separation from the kids and staff to be effective, cause it's a lie, and I know it's a lie because...

I see my principal doing it on a daily basis and he is HIGHLY EFFECTIVE!

You're probably wondering when I have the time to think about such things.  It is long, quiet ride over Schooley's Mountain everyday.  Lots of time to think.  I know that may be a shock to you, the fact that I think, not that I have a long, quiet ride to work.

Another thing I appreciate about you is that you have worked your butt off to get to the position you are now in a very short time where others get to their positions in leadership by kissing the right ones. You know the all people are VALUABLE, you know you will make mistakes, and you always seek counsel on how to improve.

That makes you teachable, 
and if you are teachable as a leader, those under your charge will be also.

Then again, what do I know, I'm just a pawn.


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