LEADING ANY SCHOOL IS A COMPLEX BUSINESS, BUT LOOK AT THOSE WHO DO IT WELL AND YOU’LL FIND THEY HAVE IN COMMON FIVE KEY SKILLS, AS SATWANT PALEKAR EXPLAINS.
Most school principals have been classroom teachers before their promotion to the school leadership position, and most have attained that position by pursuing a career path through several leadership positions, be it as a year-level coordinator, curriculum leader, professional learning coordinator or the like.
On that leadership pathway, the best school principals have learned about everything from classroom management to moving furniture and from curriculum mapping to identifying resources for a particular classroom activity. Along the way, have also learned the vital importance of collaboration with leadership 35 colleagues, and the importance of working hard to develop positive working relationships.
There are many traits that are important for effective school leadership,but the five that follow are among the most crucial.
1. Listening to and respecting people Effective school principals work constantly work on their listening skills. Whether leadership at any particular moment requires command of staff, collaboration between staff, negotiation with staff or support of staff, effective leaders understand the people that they lead because they listen to them.
Listening enables school leaders to properly understand what their staff require in order to do their best. It is the key to getting the best feedback, identifying opportunities and barriers in getting things done, but it is also vital in making staff feel included and respected for being the dedicated professionals who know what needs to be done.
Even the most recently recruited and least experienced teachers blossom when they know they have been respected impartially by their principal. This respect encourages staff to continue to work hard, to think about the best ways they can support each other and their students, leading to mutual respect which fosters a positive and productive environment in their school.
2. Developing an atmosphere of calm purpose Running a school requires skills to deal with myriad day-to-day demands and pressures. Effective school leaders are agile in reacting to those demands and pressures, but also purposeful in pursuing long-term, strategic goals. While purpose and strategy are important in themselves, they also equip principals with a greater capability to deal with all the day-to-day issues that intrude into school life with a positive and calm attitude.
3. Creating a safe school environment Principals who create a safe and welcoming environment encourage staff,students and others to support that environment. This is particularly important when conflicts arise as they often do in schools.Where a conflict arises between staff, between students, between a member of staff and a student or even between a member of staff and the principal, the effective school leader is able to detach himself or herself from the situation, is able to articulate clearly that the process to conflict resolution is driven by the pursuit of the best interests of the school, is able to be impartial and is focused on solutions. Responding to the particulars of each circumstance, effective principals operate honestly, transparently and collaboratively. In instances where they have made a mistake, they are able to recognise and admit to this.
4. Learning to navigate dangerous reefs From time to time in steering their school on the learning journey principals risk coming up against a rock – a negative person who opposes change, resists compromise or simply enjoys conflict.The effective principal recognises those members of the school community who work in the best interests of the school and who are committed to the learning journey, whether they agree with and support or question particular strategies and practices. The effective principal also recognises those members of the school community
who are unremittingly negative and oppositional, and charts the best possible course for the school so as to maintain the momentum of the journey, providing those who oppose change, resist compromise or simply enjoy conflict with the best possible productive options that support learning in the school without insisting they change, at the risk of being drawn into the negative energy of an unwinnable fight that would provide no benefit to the school.
5. Recognising the stars Publicly recognising the many different stars who make a school into a place for learning, whether these stars are teachers, students or parents, librarians, gardeners or people beyond the school, enables effective school principal to maintain a robust management framework and a positive school culture. The judicious recognition of and reward for those who seek to go from good to better, better to best, sets a standard but also raises the bar for all.
The effective leader, however, understands that recognition must truly value all those whose efforts establish a positive school climate, whether this be in the way a teacher speaks to students in the school grounds or the way a student might help the gardeners to protect plants during a hot, dry spell.Leadership creates a certain separation from one’s peers, and yet requires of the leader the ability to communicate, understand and elicit trust. Leadership requires a leader to take accountability for the actions of those he or she leads and yet depends on the ability to recognise and reward others exceptional school leaders see the exceptional in those around them.
To lead a school truly is a fine balancing act, yet it is only the principal who is able to unleash the full potential that exists in a school, not simply by letting exceptional staff do their job, not simply by letting exceptional students achieve high academic grades, but by bringing everyone in a school together, with the recognition that it is the talent, commitment, collaboration and sheer hard work of everyone that makes a school more than a collection of teachers and students, but a true learning community.
T Satwant Palekar is Regional School
Director, West India, for Zee Learn.
Photo © Ti Santi – Shutterstock