In Support of the Strong Individual Leader

July 24, 2012 at 10:51 AM 1 comment

The vision for school leaders of the future has them doing a lot more. Huh? Aren’t they already overwhelmed and looking for relief? How could they possibly be asked to be more hands-on at school, increase fiscal accountability, supervise more people directly, elevate the role of parents and the community, mine more data, implement new motivational strategies for staff, and know every child with an IEP personally…all while raising student achievement across the learning community? It is time for executive manager to enter the picture.

Conventional wisdom says the headmaster’s job is too heavy for one person. Part of that burden has been lifted through distributive leadership as instructional role models among the teaching staff were tasked with professional development and mentoring. Assistant headmasters and deans handled staff supervision and discipline. Meanwhile, heads of schools attended district meetings by day and managed administrative tasks into the evening. But were they off-loading the wrong part of the job?

The head of a school needs to be strong, visible, and accessible. As change agent, he or she has little time for the central district office. Nor is there time for bureaucratic procedures or focus on squeaky wheels. Top priorities include…

  • Development of measurements for teacher effectiveness and student outcomes.
  • Training and implementation of new motivational programs that include regular goal-setting, professional development, and evaluations for all members of the team.
  • Implementation of diverse pedagogical approaches and team teaching.
  • Reinvention of the parent-teacher paradigm.
  • Absolute accountability for student results.

An effective headmaster must hold the reigns of true leadership tightly and release less critical tasks appropriately.

Delegation of responsibility is an essential component of leadership, but first there must be a rethinking of how to manage top talent, technology, and support staff. Assistant headmasters need to elevate their practices to become more effective in staff development and evaluation, not better bureaucrats. Teachers need to become managers of pedagogy, technology, and para-professionals. Tasks such as paperwork and data management need to be analyzed and reduced, automated, or assigned to support staff.

One of the myths of leadership in schools is the emphasis on administrative minutia. Traditionally, department heads have identified strong teachers and recognized them by giving them content leader responsibilities. In reality, the role was a stipend opportunity in exchange for serving as the department’s administrative assistant…hardly a just reward for classroom excellence. However, such work was considered essential to future success as an administrator in the service of the bureaucracy. A good teacher had to show potential for treading paper while managing a classroom well.

Another myth is the union as an insurmountable obstacle to staff management. The real culprits have been scarce managerial advice and intervention, management by exception, infrequent evaluation and review, and absence of reliable data on staff performance. The headmaster needs to own that history and become the catalyst for change. Supervisors and teachers will rely heavily on their boss as they learn to function in a more effective system of talent management. Union support for this new system will depend on acceptance of collective tools of evaluation and equitable compensation strategies. They will be vigilant in their tracking of the outcomes with each school leader.

Meanwhile, the definition of a good teacher has been in evolution, and it will take unfailing support to maintain momentum for growth. Teachers must be kept energized as they embrace robust pedagogical models and collaborate with one another to reduce redundant efforts. Already, teachers have begun to integrate technology to replace grade books, support communication, and enhance lessons. They must delegate or eliminate more of the paper flow and accept more technology solutions. And they need to renew their relationships with parents. Under the guidance of a fair and collaborative headmaster, the academic goals of students and their parents must be met by the instructional staff; and psychosocial growth and development of the children must be fostered by the team as well.

The new school leader cannot arrive soon enough. Major constituencies have lost faith in America’s public schools. Along the way, we have declared the servants to the system to be lost causes, people to be replaced with high-powered rookies or virtual instruction. In extreme cases, whole schools have been discarded. However, the truly fearless leader can create a world in which new resources and incentives motivate change in the incumbents. They are not talentless or obsolete. They have merely suffered from being badly used.

Anyone who has consistently stood in front of a classroom full of children must be a natural leader. So, decentralize the money, spend a little more of it on automation and support staff, and allow the professionals to realize their own worth. But it all begins with an absolute leader at the top.


Entry filed under: School Leadership.

Failure…is not the data’s fault (Part 1 of 2) Taking the Project Management Approach to School System Improvement

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