Reflections on school leadership in uncertain times.
In thinking about the journey to become a school leader, my years in education have reinforced that becoming a leader is clearly complex and simple at the same time. It is complex because being a school leader is certainly a multi-layered growth process. It is simple because at the heart of the work is our ability to build relationships with others. Keeping relationship building at the core of our approach to leadership makes the work less daunting and much more rewarding. As a former principal advised me when I begin my journey as a vice principal: “Always remember to put people first and paper second”. Putting ‘paper second’ was difficult at times because the administrative demand was great at times with deadlines and policies to implement. The responsibilities placed on the shoulders of school leaders’ today verge on being heroic but almost unrealistic. For those interested in holding administrative positions, there are many great resources to explore which outline the parameters of system policy and procedural implementation. Training is certainly needed to understand the many job facets of a teacher leader, principal or superintendent. Understanding how to become a leader is something that requires much more depth and reflection as well as practice through experience. The work is of value, however, as the impact that one person can have working with others is also immeasurable. I have learned so much from others who have walked the path of leadership before me and with me.
While I have had the advantage of having many leadership roles in both private and public educational systems, I still have much to learn. I am learning today from new and innovative young leaders. I also know that it is in the work with others that leading has the most meaning and impact. It has little to do with being the leader of the band as one discovers early in the game of taking on the responsibility of helping others grow. Impact is also related to the work that we agree to take on, including the reality of work that leaves us open to comment or criticism. Influential leaders must learn to become comfortable with a sense of vulnerability at times. Modelling our humanity helps others to surface their anxieties. We must be humble about the complexities of learning and leading especially if we wish to address the pressing equity gaps in our schools. The complexities of 2020 have surfaced new demands for leaders which we are still uncovering and just beginning to understand.
We are living through an important time in our history – one we will remember for years to come. In a time of pandemic, being a leader first requires earning the trust of others – being perceived as being trustworthy as well as the ability to trust others to do their part. As schools open up this year, we need to trust staff to be diligent in safety protocols as well ensuring that we support them in terms of resources to do so. Learning will only be possible if we can reduce anxieties – for our parent community, for our students, our staffs and ourselves. Our vulnerabilities are front and center – on display in both our actions and our words, fueled by the emotions, concerns and hopes in our hearts and minds. Others will look to those within leadership positions to see how they are handling this time’s uncertainty. We must foster a realistic optimism that we can keep ourselves and others safe. Our preparations must address the needs that Maslow illuminated as well as addressing varied and individualized student learning demands. ”People first and paper (or text) second “now take on much deeper meaning. Motivating students and ourselves to persevere through these uncertain times will require inner strength, patience, and courage. I have no doubt that educators will be up to this challenge but just as students need support so do the adults leading schools. Stay safe and stay strong is a mantra for all of us to keep in mind now.