A Summary of Leadership and what it entails

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At one level a leader is the person who not only influences what happens but is able to make things happen by initiating changes, organizing how change happens and making all the necessary structures, decisions and activities meaningful. But, accepting this view of leadership shouldn't mean that we manipulate colleagues and change their behavior to fit our prearranged norm. It does mean that to be an effective leader we need to be able to give colleagues a sense of understanding of what they are actually doing in the school.

In trying to clarify leadership in simple terms - it is useful to summarize some of the common traits that characterize effective leaders. 

This kind of summary can be divided into specific areas and include how leadership has to be concerned with:

a sense of responsibility

the need to complete tasks

being willing and able to take risks

having the capacity to handle stress

Being able to influence and coordinate the efforts of colleagues.

Leadership styles and roles

Leadership has to be about building and maintaining a sense of vision, culture and interpersonal relationships as well as involving management issues that include the coordination, support and monitoring of our schools as organizations. We have to be able to balance both roles. There is a useful statement from an infant head teacher in an article called Effective School Leadership, published by the NCSL: 'Leadership is about having vision and articulating, ordering priorities, getting others to go with you, constantly reviewing what you are doing and holding on to things you value. Management is about the functions, procedures and systems by which you realize the vision.'

What is important about our style of leadership is that it needs to be appropriate for what is happening and for the tasks or processes that are taking place. All styles of leadership have to take into account, firstly, how to complete tasks and, secondly, what is the best way to complete them. This is the process that everyone goes through in terms of effective teams and relationships between colleagues. Tasks will not be completed properly by colleagues who are not motivated. There is a helpful measure that tries to balance tasks and processes using four different styles of leadership depending on how important the tasks are, or how important team work and the relationships between colleagues are:

Telling colleagues what to do - this is high on getting tasks finished and low on developing and sustaining relationships and team work.

Selling an idea to colleagues - again, this is high on tasks but also means that relationships are important because a certain amount of agreement is necessary.

Persuading colleagues to participate - this is relatively low on tasks as the most important aspect of this style of leadership is to get colleagues working effectively together.

Delegating to colleagues - this is low on tasks and low on relationship and is a mature style in a school with committed and effective teams. Leaders are able to confidently delegate tasks to colleagues who themselves will have to decide what leadership style to use.

There are basically, two kinds of roles necessary for a leader. One derives from the position held - you as head teacher, your deputy or assistant head and so on. The other from personal abilities and experience - many of these abilities are included in the earlier list of leadership, interpersonal and professional skills for leadership. Having the ability and expertise and using all the available skills will mean that you and, in fact, any leader at any level in the school's hierarchy has the important role of:

forecasting what needs doing

planning how to do it

organizing what needs to be done

delegating tasks to appropriate colleagues, teams and working parties

coordinating and controlling what happens

Monitoring and evaluating its success.

Leadership at many levels

In many ways we are only as good as all the rest of the leaders we have in place. This is largely because leadership has to be exercised at many levels. All teachers are, for example, leaders in their own classrooms because the actual process of teaching is about influencing, directing, setting targets, using appropriate resources and monitoring and evaluating successes. As teachers develop their skills they will begin to lead colleagues as curriculum coordinators. Their roles, like ours, will involve people, information and decisions. In schools - all our schools - we will need to lead and promote leaders and leadership along the following lines:

Relating well to people - this is where you have to act as a kind of figurehead and speak at functions such as meetings with parents. At the same time you will be selecting, supporting, training, mentoring, monitoring and motivating colleagues you work alongside.

Using information to lead and raise standards - there is a constant need to monitor, fact find and assess situations by collecting as much information as possible from individuals, teams of teachers and from documents and reports. Once the information is collected it has to be used to manage change and to raise standards by being disseminated and communicated to whoever needs it. This will mean clear and articulate meetings, written memos, well-managed discussions, reports and policy documents.

Leadership and decision making - all leaders have to take decisions and all aspects of leadership involve decision making. Some decisions are instant statements, for example those involving health and safety and risk assessment. Many others, however, will involve consultation and consensus. This means meetings and meetings mean colleagues who may need convincing that change - and most decisions are related to change - has to happen.

In fact working with colleagues and leading them forward is far from easy. We all need to make sure that we place a high premium on the human dimension of leadership and the need to recognize and promote not only the development of our own considerable skills but those of all our colleagues. Perhaps ending as I started will form a neat circle. But rather than use a glib definition of leadership let's quote from Ibsen who suggests that, 'a community is like a ship and everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm'.

School Context

An Elementary School with approximately 500 students described mostly as chaotic and poorly organized school with no activities, development or any mission. The school is located in a newly decentralized district where a popularly elected council of parents, community members, teachers, and administrators decides on the principal's contract, approves the budget, and passes the school improvement plan.

The objective is to create a climate that will encourage both students and teachers to have a clear mission focused on a continuous improvement in all fields of the school life. As the new principle i will do my best to see hallways that are safe and orderly, classes that are more interesting and engaging, as well as plans becoming accomplished.

Plan/Changes/Methodology

Before beginning the change process, become familiar with the school improvement cycle, the stages of the change process, and change models associated with each. Leaders must be able to distinguish between the school improvement cycle and the change process, determine where the school is located within the change process, and identify appropriate next steps.

Learn more about the complexities of the change process by reading, talking with expert practitioners, and attending seminars.

Accept the change process as a positive experience to be understood and embraced, rather than a negative experience to be feared and avoided.

When you are ready to begin the school improvement process, bring in change experts and facilitators to build the capacity of school staff to lead change efforts. It is important to draw upon the expertise and skills of university faculty, central office personnel, external consultants, professional staff developers, and others.

Lead discussions about the school's "history of change" in order to understand how and why past change efforts have succeeded or failed.

Learn about the roles that principals, teachers, central office staff, parents, board members, and others involved in serving children and youth play in the school improvement process, and use this knowledge to form effective school improvement teams. School leaders should understand and cultivate their roles and the roles that others play within improvement initiatives.

To build a more collaborative school culture, institute faculty study groups and cross-grade or department teams and provide time for collegial work.

Build commitment and a collaborative culture to support the change process by being a "leader of leaders," having and communicating high expectations, and demonstrating confidence in school staff and the surrounding community.

Form partnerships with parents, businesses, and social service and community agencies to consolidate resources and meet the entire range of student needs - emotional, social, and academic - in order to improve student learning.

Create high-achieving learning environments by selecting and integrating a variety of programs to improve teaching and learning.

Establish and follow a set of guidelines for implementing new approaches to student learning.

Reflect on your leadership practices using leadership style inventories, surveys, and/or checklists.

Use a variety of methods to celebrate success; for example, some schools have used the following activities to celebrate success:

Planning teams have meals together at the end of the year to review progress and celebrate success.

Principals send out congratulations and notes that celebrate success.

Schools hold assemblies to recognize not only the success of students but of their teams.

The principal passes out coffee cups with the school logo to recognize teachers and teams that have been particularly successful.

The school improvement process takes place in three stages: initiation, implementation, and institutionalization. Knowing about the challenges and problems as well as the success factors associated with each stage of the change process can increase the likelihood of success.

Initially, some members of the school community - including school staff - may be reluctant to change. School leaders, through their actions and words, can overcome such reluctance by rewarding risk-taking and encouraging school community members to offer new ideas and strategies.

If reforms are to improve learning for all students, leaders must find and implement meaningful curriculum and effective instructional programs for an increasingly diverse student population. To ensure that reforms do not overlook entire groups of students, leaders must understand the culture and needs of diverse students.

Without a focused effort to align and integrate school improvement initiatives, the probable result will be fragmented, uncoordinated programs and activities that may have conflicting objectives. It is up to school leaders to create a shared vision and mission for school improvement, to coordinate various change efforts so that they work together toward similar objectives rather than against one another, and to ensure that these efforts reach for the common goal of improved learning for all students.

Leaders of improvement efforts need to address the problems of resources (time, money, and support), the need to train and retain knowledgeable and motivated personnel, and the challenge posed by the shifting goals of the central office, the state, and the local community.

Leaders should be wary of mismanaged agreement. Everyone in a group agrees to a decision - even though no one in the group supports the decision - because they are unwilling or unable to communicate their reservations; it also refers to a situation in which everyone in the group agrees about a problem that must be solved, but no one actively pursues strategies or actions to deal with the problem. Therefore, leaders must nurture teams that are able to communicate and solve problems openly.

Now that the school has identified the various components of its improvement plan, the task is to bring everything together into a coherent program of practices that will address its identified needs and facilitate the improvement process. The plan must also include all necessary implementation information (e.g., who is responsible, timeline). Some districts or states have a required format for schools' action plan. For those that don't, this activity helps participants reflect on the most appropriate format to support their change effort. There is no "best" layout for an action plan. Depending on the nature and needs of different schools and depending on any state or local requirements by which they must abide, the way in which their action plans are laid out will differ. The primary purpose of the action plan is to be a useful tool for guiding school staff in implementing agreed-upon effective practices and support activities. Having a clear and comprehensive action plan helps ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of a school's improvement efforts. Developing and implementing a school improvement plan is an iterative process; if a plan is to be effective, improvement efforts must be ongoing and continuous, their effect reviewed and documented in the course of implementation. Having all improvement-related information in one complete document provides a clear picture of the entire improvement endeavor, its goals, and how all practices and support activities are intended to fit together in moving the school toward those goals. This helps prevent fragmentation of effort and, over time, makes it easier to identify areas of weakness or inconsistency. Having one comprehensive document also makes updating information and keeping track of implementation activities much easier. Using an electronic template can be especially helpful for easily updating the plan.

Memoranda - Letters

Dear Parents:

I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself to you.  As you are probably aware, I am the new Principal at Elementary School.  I am honored that this community/school district has chosen me to lead the Elementary School.  Although I only started a few days ago, it is already apparent to me that this is a caring and welcoming environment.  I am looking forward to meeting your child (children) on the first day of school. 

I feel that my responsibility as the Principal is to ensure your child receives a quality education within a safe, respectful environment.  I know the staff here shares that same focus.  I am a firm believer in the home/school connection.  Please feel free to contact me at the school with any questions, concerns, or just to introduce yourself.  Working together only enhances your child's educational experiences. 

As a matter of business, I ask that you please be understanding as we continue to work to ensure a safe school environment.  Your child's safety is our first concern at dismissal/arrival. To this end, we ask that you follow the initial routines outlined in the parent letter you recently received with your child's class assignment.  These routines may change slightly as we begin the year and determine the number of children being picked up by their parents.  Also, the district has enacted a policy regarding changing your child's normal dismissal routine.  If you need to change your child's means of transportation home, this must be done in writing by 1pm.  Phone requests will not be honored.  I understand this is a change from previous years.  However, this policy helps to ensure a safe dismissal.  If you have any questions regarding this, please call us.

I hope your enjoy the remaining days of summer vacation.  We will see everyone on August 30th. 

Respectfully,

Principal

Dear Teachers/Students:

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share my excitement about my appointment as the new principal at Elementary School.  Elementary had a reputation of excellence and I feel fortunate to be joining a school culture focused on student learning, a commitment to high expectations, innovation and collaboration.  It is my intent to continue to carry out these important traditions and practices.  I would like to build on the same reputation here at Elementary and invite you to help us determine what is best for your child by attending monthly morning coffees, parent conferences and academic events.

I would like to share some information about my educational background and professional experience.  After graduating from XYZ School, I attended ABC University.  While at ABC, I studied Shakespearean Theater.  After receiving my Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, I attended XXX University where I earned a Masters in Education-Reading Specialist.  I taught for 10 years in New York before my move to Galveston.  I spent five years teaching in Galveston while also pursuing my certification in Educational Leadership.  I have spent the last fifteen years in XXX company as an administrator.

I look forward to be a part of a warm and caring school environment and working together with each of you this year.  Please feel free to call or stop by for a visit.  If you have questions or concerns, pleased do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Principal

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