Over each of the past five days my colleague Cathy and I have braved the commute from South Langley out to the UBC campus, putting in long days at the “short course” – an intense, engaging administrative leadership conference hosted by the UBC Faculty of Education and the BCPVPA. The workshop sessions, the discussions, the new professional relationships forged, and the ideas we’ve explored have been transformational. Many participants have stated that this might have been the best professional development they’ve ever attended. However, five days of sense-making and learning is difficult to capture in a single reflection. Undoubtedly, many of the arguments and ideas we’ve explored will continue to linger long after we return to our individual schools. In a way, this has been a spiritual experience that will have transcendence and permanence in my journey.
My goal for this conference were to find out what experience, research and wisdom could reveal about the characteristics and elements that are necessary to effectively build and lead innovative, creative, effective and globally-impactful schools. From insights delivered by some of the most successful principals and superintendents in BC, here’s some lingering ideas and thoughts that I gleaned over the five days. The one big idea, if boiled down to a single enduring understanding: Educational leadership is moral stewardship and commitment.
- There is only one important time and that time is now. But, you are not in charge of time. The most important one, is the one you are with. The most important thing to do is to support (listening, attending, caring for) the one by your side.
- Your job is important. You are one of the key leaders in your community, with enormous responsibilities. The educational leader is essential to the success of the school and student achievement. But, you aren’t the most important – the teacher is. Teachers are also educational leaders and you must recognize and embrace this, as well as help them to create the conditions to build capacity. Your job, primarily, is to establish, cultivate and tend to a culture of collaboration and a community of learning.
- Lead to learn. Learning is joy. You, the educational leader, must exude a life of passionate pursuit of learning and growth. If you don’t passionately pursue growth and learning, neither will your staff, and consequently, your students will be affected too. You, as the learning leader, have a learning obligation.
- You get to the “how” through the “why” – nothing meaningful is achieved without careful consideration of purpose and vision. If there’s a problem to be fixed, first ask what conditions caused the problem in the first place.
Everyday in educational leadership there will be an opportunity to be upset, angry, frustrated, annoyed and anxious. But there will also, simultaneously, be opportunities to help, inspire, reward, grow and serve. Some see the rain, some see the sun.
You are watched closely as an educational leader – if you can’t handle this or don’t embrace it, you are in the wrong profession. People take cues from your behaviour. They learn from it. You are observed, critiqued and scrutinized. Most of the influence and impact you have, you never see. Your actions shape the culture of the school. The way you behave and respond is your leadership – this speaks volumes about who you are.
People will forgive, support and follow you if you are incompetent in some areas, but they won’t forgive, support and follow you if you have a record of questionable character and integrity.
You need to approach educational leadership with reverence and respect – it isn’t about you, it is about the school, the community, the learners and the teachers you’ve been entrusted with.
- You need to learn from your community, to discuss and know the people in it on a regular basis.
- Educational leadership requires BOTH/AND – it isn’t either/or. You have to be able to live with, and function within: complexity, ambiguity and the tension between contrasting realities. Confusion and ambiguity cannot always be solved, but just have to be lived.
- Schools are bureaucracies AND communities. Bureaucracy is goal driven; community is purpose driven. Purpose is different from a goal; purpose includes vision and values, and it is compelling. Bureaucracy based on rationality, policies and procedures; whereas community is based on relationships of unseen networks.
- Educational leadership is BOTH leading out front, commanding, exercising authority; AND it is servant leadership, which requires you to be inspirational, but not commanding. You have to earn influence and lead by permission. Many administrators never get influence. Your authority can be terminated in an instance, but your influence can linger long after you are gone.