When we think about school leadership, we often tend to think about the roles administrators play – principals, vice principals, and district administrators. But leadership is about much more than a title on a business card. It’s about how we work, how we relate to those we work alongside, and how we serve students and their community.
No matter how many promotions a person might receive, leadership is a quality of character that can only be developed inside, never simply given or awarded. There are so many ways that a teacher’s character and practices create change in students, in classrooms, and within the whole school.
Leadership, in this sense, is not all about being a decision-maker or having the final say. It’s not about being the centre of attention, either. It’s about putting kids front and centre.
Real leadership isn’t about you it’s about those you lead – it’s about how you create an environment where you students can excel because you have removed all the obstacles from their pathway.
Our experiences working with thousands of teachers have allowed us to identify three main leadership qualities that we have seen amplify positive change in students and in overall school culture and climate.
Trust builds strong students
When working in a school setting as a teacher or as an administrator trust is essential with your colleagues – we all know that.
Trust is also essential with students. By trusting students, teachers provide evidence of their care and belief in them. When we give students the time and the space to show us what they can do, we simultaneously send them the message “you can do it!”.
Most teachers agree with this level of trust.
But let’s consider taking trust one step further.
Giving students regular opportunities to make their own choices and decisions, enabling them to use their voices as they see fit and accepting their definitions of success, this is when we truly put our students before ourselves.
Adults, teachers, administrators, parents – we all spend so much time discussing and defining “student success”. Ask yourself, how often have you considered the students’ opinion on this?
Leaders never forget the big picture, no matter how busy or intricate the days may be. The ability to focus, stay organized, and plan ahead (with a plan A and a plan B) is what enables an individual to overcome unforeseen obstacles.
Then there are the predictable obstacles we know we will meet. No matter how challenging days get, stepping back and remembering ‘why’ you chose teaching and what your long term goals are will allow you to contextualize the moment.
Visualizing your goals in the thick of a stressful moment will allow you to realize that your struggle is an essential part of your journey.
We all need to make choices everyday. Some of those decisions are easier to make than others.
Our choices often affect those around us. Being able to consider the impact of our decisions on those within our school and our community is essential.
Cultivating your ability to make good decisions in different situations and contexts is essential. This involves weighing pros and cons clearly, making lists, and considering timelines and outcomes.
We all operate according to rules and principles, but we also need to remember that progress happens when we acknowledge that it’s time to change the rules.
Exercises for awakening the leader in you
The more every one within a school actively seeks to grow and develop as a leader in the sense that we have described, the more rich and more substantial the educational experience becomes for students.
When it comes to personal development and growth we all know that practice is key. Practicing leadership skills and exercising qualities of character until they become reflexes and habits is the best way to achieve leadership potential.
Studyo users get their daily dose of leadership practice each day using our School and Life Achievement System. A system designed to support teachers who know how important their work is and want to ensure the success of every project, class, and student they commit to.
That being said, for Studyo, teaching is about more than just success. We didn’t create the best system for school and life achievement according to our own definition of success. We created it to empower teachers to have total control over their work, their projects, and their commitments, because we know that when everything is under control, we can truly enjoy our work. Our mission is to enable teachers to make pure and simple enjoyment the reason they come to work everyday – enjoyment of working with students and watching them grow, the enjoyment of your own development, and the enjoyment of contributing to a school community that has a positive impact on its members.
Here are some examples of how we’ve integrated our mission into our application. Teachers use Studyo to develop trust and empower their students because it requires that they to track their own homework and assignments, schedule time to complete them, and break down their work into smaller bite-sized chunks. You can prepare your students for the world they’ll meet after graduation by using a tool with built in freedom and responsibility.
When students get in the flow of entering their work and checking off tasks, they’ll enjoy the satisfaction of getting things done.
When it comes to practicing being goal-oriented, a great habit to get into is reflecting on your short-term and long-term goals. Having weekly, monthly and yearly goals will ensure that you stay focused and on-task as much as possible. Don’t just think about your goals, write them down. The more often you see them and visualize them the better. You can also track your progress toward each goal’s achievement. Once this information is in Studyo you can use the various viewers to see how you’re performing.
Beyond knowing and seeing your goals, achieving your goals requires that you get planning. Breaking down bigger projects into smaller tasks and being able to schedule the work for yourself or for a colleague can help you coordinate and plan at the same time.
Good decision-making skills can be practiced in a number of ways. Having all the information at hand, ideally in the most centralized way possible can make considering options, weighing pros and cons, and considering contingencies easier. For some tasks, good old paper and pen do come in handy.
Sometimes low tech is all the tech you need to get a task done.
As we’ve argued elsewhere, edtech tools are not all inert. They can help teachers and students grow personally and professionally (or academically).
The qualities listed above can be nurtured through the use of tools that enable teachers (and students) to operate at their best. Developing trust, being goal-oriented, being a strong decision maker are especially important qualities or skills that can be practised and improved over time. Finding ways to insert this conscious practice into daily life for yourself and for others is definitely the habit of a real leader.
Interested in leadership skills for your students? This webinar recording might be of interest.
Roxanne Desforges is a former high school math and entrepreneurship teacher. She currently teaches pre-service teachers on how to use educational technology at McGill University, where she also conducts research on education and the future of work. She is a strong advocate for the professional treatment of teachers and focuses on helping the next generation of teachers to be better and more holistically prepared for the job.