Leaders as Servants First

images

Everyone in education has heard the line that the principal is key to the success of a school.

I have never been comfortable with this, more so after 12 years as an administrator in a variety of schools.  The administrator plays a key role, but the overall success of the school depends more on the leadership style of the principal.

It is difficult to teach a leadership style and to be honest, I am not sure how you would do this.

As administrators, we are well trained in a number of areas.  We take a whole host of courses that prepare us to deal with the administrative side of the job.  We are well equipped to deal with ministry regulations, curriculum expectations, school finance and management practices.

We are not well trained on how to deal effectively and compassionately with staff and the wider community.

I say this because over the years I have heard so many stories of administrators fumbling relationships with staff, parents and the wider community.  I have worked in several schools where I replaced administrators who had run roughshod over the emotional landscape of their school.  To be fair, I have also replaced excellent administrators and in these cases, I have done my best to continue to support their excellent practices.

The problem seems to be that you can’t teach ‘heart’.  You can’t teach a principal to lead from the back, to empower their staff and to make themselves the servant leader in the school.

Years ago, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote about how to test for true servant leadership:

Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the last privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

This is not new.  Greenleaf wrote about Servant Leadership over 40 years ago. However, this essential ingredient in teaching people to become effective leaders is entirely lacking.

The result is troubling.  Administrators regularly act as if the teacher, educational assistant, custodian or parent do not truly matter.  Administrators routinely believe that their way of leading is the only way and what they know is what is best for their school.  The idea that they should stand back and play a supporting role is lost on many people.

This is not to say that there are no great leaders out there.  I have met many of them, some in our own district and many more at conferences I have attended and learning groups I have joined.

“The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

It will be seen by many that writing about this smacks of disloyalty to other administrators.

This may be true, but I sincerely believe that we are not put in these positions to support other administrators, we are here to support our staff, students, and community.  We are here to create the conditions for the best learning environment possible.  We are here not to put our stamp on our school community, but to get out of the way and allow others to thrive.

download-1

I love reading the work of George Couros.  He is a true leader when it comes to innovation in schools and the use of technology in education.  Most importantly however, he is a true believer in the importance of building healthy relationships.

When I talk about “innovation in education”, creativity in schools, or meaningful use of technology, I always begin by saying that nothing I say matters if you do not build relationships in schools. There is no “culture of innovation” if there is no positive culture. It is the foundation of which we build things upon.

George Couros

Maybe this is one reason why schools are failing to become centers of innovation.  If everything depends on the ‘vision’ of one individual, how can we expect innovation to take place?

How do we expect our staff to really express their creative voice?

This is what I see.  I am happy to hear from others with an opposing view. Whatever the case, we should consider the role of the leader and the enabler, the true servant of their community.

This is where true growth and innovation will flourish.

20161231_200531

Trust and other things…Blog Post #2

dane-sadownyk-danesadownyk-twitter-clipular

This is the first day of 2017 and I am ready to get on a roll for my 31 posts.  I wrote earlier that I planned to do 31 posts in 31 days.

This wasn’t my idea – my wife suggested it.  It’s a great idea.

We woke up today after a wonderful New Year’s Eve of tramping through the snow to gather with hundreds of other Ottawa folk to watch fireworks on Parliament Hill and simply wander around in the snowy wonder of a beautiful winter’s night. We met people, waited for free buses and loved the freedom of a wonderful night shared with so many people.

20161231_200531

Already, there are so many things to write about!  This morning, I read about a great project my friend Dean Shareski has started – the #Deanie Awards.

dean-shareski-shareski-twitter-clipular

What a wonderful way to start the year – recognizing people who are doing interesting things.  The first #Deanie recipient  posted the photo on trust at the top of today’s blog post.

I don’t know this person, but I watched him do a great singing presentation at an Ignite Talk.  Of course, I followed him and found this great retweet on trust. “Principals, your teachers must first trust in you before trusting in the change itself.”  The original tweet is from Nathan Lang, Ed. D. @nalang1, so I followed him too.

I am getting a little far from my original post idea on trust – I am sure I will get back to it – I really do see trust as the essential ingredient for anyone who aspires to be an effective principal.  Trust empowers, trust brings out the best in people, trust creates community.  yup, got to write more on this later.

For now, I want to celebrate a wonderful New Year’s Eve with my wonderful partner Heather, the #Deanie Awards and the wonderful gift of being open to making new connections on the first day of a hopeful new year!

More hope to come!