“Many conversations that I hear from administrators focus on
how to deal with educators, yet often don’t focus
on reflecting what they can do different.”
Three years ago, I sat and listened to Glen Eschbach, Superintendent of Schools in North Babylon, at the Literacy Leaders Forum speak about the power of reflection, evaluation, and self-assessment in leadership. Sharing a document that would assist the audience in evaluating whether or not they are true lead learners, Glen discussed how our own reflection can inform future practice. I left that conference energized and inspired to allow the teachers who I supervise use this rubric to assess my leadership. I was interested to see if my own evaluation matched their perspectives. In fact, as George Couros noted in his description of the power of Hacking Leadership by Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo, I wanted to know what I could “do different” to serve their needs and essentially, the needs of our students. This practice prompted my analysis of the following aspects of leadership:
- Is it possible for effective leadership to take place if a solid relationship is not in place? What if the leader believes a solid relationship is in place but the others do not? It was Rita Pierson in her TED Talk who shared James Comer’s statement, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” She goes on to talk about how kids do not learn from teachers who they do not like. Does the same go for leadership? I pay close attention to developing relationships with the educators with whom I work. I agree with Tony Sinanis that relationships are the absolute key to developing strong culture and morale. Yet, what if some perceive your relationships with others to be richer than the one you have with them? I never thought of this as part of my work until the Eschbach evaluation (if I can coin it that). Yet, they were right. I had to adapt and be conscious of my connections.
- Do we ever check in with others when it appears they are sad or simply not themselves? In trying to find a quote for this blog from ratemyteachers.com (see bullet five), I just came across something written this past July from someone who went to school in West Islip in 2008. He/she wrote, “[He] cared about well being and grades of course. I went through a lot my senior year and he pulled me out of class to see if I was okay and ask me how he could help.” Wow. In reading this comment, a smile immediately found its way to my face. Did this leak its way into my leadership? Developing this personal connection is the foundation for any positive professional relationship.
- If a leader expects something new from those who he/she leads, does it matter if some do not agree with the change? As the new leader of two middle school departments when I shared the aforementioned evaluation tool, I expected that my comments and suggestions on digital lessons plans would not get positive reviews. It was a far different practice than what they were used to under previous leadership. Yet, I was shocked. Those who commented on the practice loved getting the feedback. My comments and suggestions provided guidance for some and inspiration for others. These educators were passionate about their craft and they respected my time and effort in assisting with the teaching and learning in their classrooms. What if teachers didn’t agree with the practice? What if it didn’t even develop their work? Should it continue?
- Do leaders thank those around them to show their appreciation? Glen Eschbach shared a story with us to highlight the importance of praise in leadership. I needed to hear from my teachers that I did this enough. In this era of education, this level of recognition is necessary in building culture. Through the evaluation, I learned that I often thanked those for their hard work. But, maybe I thanked others more often. See bullet number one.
- Are we unwavering in our decisions to support our students first? Are we sometimes too strong in our convictions? Can that be a bad attribute? As a former English teacher, I remember a student writing on the ratemyteachers.com site, “Great teacher, gives many extra opportunities, very opinionated though, and defends his opinions with his life even though most of them are far fetch’d.” I remember the day he walked into my classroom and said, “Mr. K., I put a comment about you on ratemyteachers.com. Just to clarify, I think your idea that we should all be feminists is crazy.” What about leadership? Are we sometimes blind in our opinions? But, what if our convictions are warranted?
There are hundreds of questions that we can reflect on as leaders. Yet, there is so much power in flipping the normal evaluation cycle. Start with a few prompts to amplify your teachers’ voices. The responses I received were powerful in my growth as a leader. The fact that teachers trust you to share their honest perspectives is the first sign that you are doing something right. I think.