In my first course with Johns Hopkins, I learned a great deal about my self and my approach to leadership. Not everything that I learned was good, but almost all of it transformed me in ways that I did not even know were important. As we progressed through the class, we examined a wide variety of leadership strategies and methods that can be used to support school and student achievement. The most challenging aspect of school leadership, in my opinion, is that in order to be an effective leader, administrators need to be students of and constantly analyze leadership theory and practice. It is particularly interesting to me in the light of school based Professional Learning Communities and how that atmosphere can be sustained at all levels of the school.
As a course in effective leadership, it was clear from the start that we would be studying a wide variety of leadership strategies and how to best use them in a school environment. Each strategy that we studied, changed the way that I look at leadership in drastic ways. My girlfriend just recently told me “you have gone through some fundamental changes in the way I deal with school issues.” She could not be more correct. There is one distinct example from my school that I would like to point out.
Before we get into the situation at my school, you need to understand some context. Last year, my school went through drastic changes in leadership and vision. This was our first year of existence and our principal had to leave due to medical reasons in October. Her assistant stepped up as our principal and started making changes to support our students. In May, he was confirmed as our full principal, and effectively abolished staff voice in the decision making process. As one of the lead teachers in the building, I was targeted as one of the people to be removed. As such, things became increasingly dicey as the year came to a close and ended with me changing roles to remove myself from a leadership position in the school.
My goal for this year was to fly “under the radar.” This meant that I refrained from taking on additional responsibilities and roles to allow other educators to develop their leadership potential. Last week, the principal told me that I would be running the school data team and be responsible for its function. It was clearly not an option for me to refuse this appointment, and I responded by asking what he wanted my role to be in the group. I was told that the team would be my responsibility but I had the freedom to structure the group as I saw fit.
Having the freedom to structure the group in a way best suited for me made all the difference. In the past, I would have structured the group with me as the focal point (because I was mentally young, and wanted all of the responsibility and credit). After this short 2 month course, I knew that my traditional approach would not be conducive to the atmosphere that I wanted. Instead of setting myself as the focal point, I structured the group as a Professional Learning Community with my role as the Facilitator and Recorder. By providing this structure, it allows the remainder of the group to focus on goals while allowing me to take a step backward and remain out of the spotlight.
Prior to this course, I would never have made this decision, and would have taken on the role of leading this team (for better or worse). It is interesting to me that my persona, and how I interact in leadership capacities has changed so dramtically in the past two months. Every time I am now asked to participate in aditional leadership teams, I evaluate the role that I need to play, and which style of leadership will be best for that position.
This idea of adapting your leadership style to support each individual role is something that I have embraced, but I am concerned about the amount of time and learning that is required. Adapting to each situation means that I have more and more strategies to pull from which requires a constant study. By integrating the ideas of Professional Learning Communities (from DuFour’s work) into my school enviornment, I can successfully model continual learning and the dedication that is involved.
Speaking of DuFour’s work, I feel that it is very intersting that PLC’s have taken on somewhat of a negative connotation in recent years. Every district tries to implement PLC’s to varying degrees and varying success. When you look at the work that DuFour put into his analysis of PLC’s, it is hard to imagine that it cannot work. This seems to be some of the divide between theory and practice.
One of the tools that I feel will bridge the gap between PLC theory and practice is the use of 21st century technology. Networks like Ning, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn allow a greater number of educators around the world to collaborate. As the tools continue to get better, we will see increased use of networking to meet the needs of our students.
I have learned alot from this course and I am looking forward to continuing to grow as both an educator and a leader in the year to come.