A Day in the Life of an Effective School Leader
Carla Thrower | Principal, Takoma Academy and Takoma Academy Preparatory School
On a brisk morning in February, I had the opportunity to shadow "Principal M" of ABC Elementary School. She has served 'ABC,' a public school in central Maryland, for the past five years in the role of intern principal and now principal. ABC Elementary School provides education for approximately 450 students in grades 3rd, 4th, and 5th, with 55 faculty and staff members. I purposely selected a school of this size because I wanted to observe something that I had never experienced, leading a large school of more than 300 students.
Principal M appears as extremely professional in her outward appearance and engagement with faculty and staff. She has developed an educational mission and vision for the school to promote each student's academic success and well-being, which is apparent in her interactions with the students, their families, and the faculty and staff. In speaking with teachers and out of classroom support staff workers, they hold Principal M in very high regard and immensely respected. They appreciate her open-door policy and feel comfortable coming to her when they need to share concerns or offer recommendations to support their assignments.
Evidence of Principal M’s strong leadership is apparent in the following:
Principal M’s role as an administrator is to be aware of the teaching and learning conducted in her school. Management and collaboration with stakeholders are areas where she has met with much success. She engages with external programs to support English as a Second Language, as well as volunteer opportunities and plans for the highly gifted. She is intentional as she interacts with all stakeholders to collaborate on many opportunities for her families.
Principal M uses several methods in supervising the instructional program of ABC Elementary School. She uses structures from administrative professional development to observe and analyze instruction. She conducts pre and post observations with all formal observations twice per year. Teachers are aware of their need for growth and areas of strength to support other teachers on their team and other teams. Principal M shared that her attendance and participation in Elementary Intern Development Team meetings are key to implementing practices in regards to supervising the instructional program of her school. She also utilizes the instructional and leadership practices from Studying Skillful Teaching I and II, OAT I and II, Facilitative Leadership, and Instructional Leadership Through Data-driven Decision-making to improve teacher practices and student performance. Principal M has participated in and conducted diversity training to increase the cultural proficiency of staff and increase teacher awareness of race and equity and raise teacher expectations for student achievement.
In reference to the time-consuming aspects of office management, Principal M remains concerned about the added pressures of completing and maintaining the requests of the board of education for her school district. Some of her responsibilities include: operating and managing the organizational systems of ABC Elementary School by monitoring the budget, delegating duties, supervising the physical plant and all related activities, and ensuring a safe teaching and learning environment for over 450 students and 55 staff members. Thus, resulting in a smooth operating workplace. She has headed the interview and hiring process of professional and support staff positions to ensure the hiring of highly-qualified and diverse staff members. Reports to document the progress of all students in the areas of reading and mathematics are submitted regularly and must be maintained. She is also responsible for facilitating the development and implementation of the school's On-site Emergency Preparedness Plan, including the coordination of fire, shelter, weather, and lockdown drills to ensure the safety and security of students and staff. Principal M meets monthly with her immediate supervisor to document school initiatives and share data of student success and areas for growth by providing plans to address needs and challenges.
What I have learned from my opportunity to shadow Principal M is two-fold. The principalship is not an easy assignment, regardless of whether you are assigned to care for and educate students in lower grades, intermediate grades, or secondary grades. There are challenges that principals face whether they work in private or parochial schools that are consistent. All students deserve to be cared for and educated. All teachers are to be acknowledged and supported through engagement and professional development to meet their needs and students' needs.
Develop a Personal Leadership Vision
Berit von Pohle | Director of Education, Pacific Union Conference
As a new school year begins, it is an excellent time to review (or develop) your leadership statement. It can be helpful to have prepared your “elevator speech” to share with students, teachers, parents, and other community members.
1. What do I value? What are my beliefs?
2. Your vision—your desired state
a. About leadership?
b. About students?
c. About staff members?
d. About community building?
e. About curriculum, instruction, and assessment?
f. About learning?
g. About professional development?
h. About communication?
i. About change?
7 Things Successful Leaders Do Differently
This is the success formula for thriving leaders.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve had the privilege of coaching, teaching, and talking to thousands of leaders from varied walks of life. What I’ve noticed is that while most are successful on some level, a handful of them have that something extra. Their path hasn’t always been easy, and they’ve encountered numerous challenges, but this select group of leaders thrives both personally and professionally. Here is what they do differently:
They put relationships first. Successful leaders not only build networks, but they also nurture the connections they make. They make time for their clients and colleagues. They make time for people they mentor. They make time for their personal relationships. It takes a great deal of energy to keep connections thriving, but successful people are willing to put in the time and the effort. I’m reminded of a quote by Robert Martin that illustrates this point: “Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is often a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise.”
We are in a time of extraordinary stressors for leadership. There is much being written about resilience and ways that leaders can come through this period with not only their skills intact, but stronger because of the experiences. While the following article was written a few years ago, the material is as timely now as ever.
Paula Davis-Laack, J.D., M.A.P.P.
Founder and CEO of the Stress & Resilience Institute
that meaning matters
In a recent Psychology Today blog post, I talk about the importance of incorporating meaning into your life, your work, and your business ventures. Many entrepreneurs, particularly millennials, are building their businesses around giving back and doing something that will affect the world in some way. Successful leaders know how their life’s work fits into a broader, more significant context.
They use humor
Successful leaders deal with tough stuff, but they fight back with humor. Early studies of humor and health showed that humor strengthened the immune system, reduced pain, and reduced stress levels. Since humor builds positive emotion, it can also help reduce feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety (McGhee, 2010). Additional research in this area shows that positive emotions predicted increases in both resilience and life satisfaction (Cohn et. al., 2009). What’s interesting is that the more stressful the situation, the more successful leaders tap into the funny side of life.
They lead and live with their strengths
Research by the Gallup Organization shows that the most effective leaders invest in their strengths, surround themselves with the right people to maximize their team, and understand their followers’ needs (Rath & Conchie, 2008). Successful leaders understand that they cannot be everything to everybody and remain effective; instead, they have a keen awareness of how to leverage their unique blend of strengths, skills, and talents.
They manage pessimistic thinking
Successful leaders reign in their pessimistic thinking in three ways. First, they focus their time and energy on where they have control. They know when to move on if certain strategies aren’t working or if they don’t have control in a specific area. Second, they know that “this too shall pass.” Successful leaders “embrace the suck” and understand that while the ride might be bumpy at times, it won’t last forever. Finally, great leaders are good at compartmentalizing. They don’t let an adversity in one area of their life seep over into other areas of their life.
They make their own luck
The concept of “grit”—perseverance and passion for long-term goals, is not new, but recent research has shed interesting light on the concept. Researchers studied an incoming class of cadets at West Point in order to better understand why certain cadets dropped out and others continued along the path of military mastery. What they found is that the group who stayed was not more athletic, well-rounded or smarter—they were grittier; in fact, grit was a better predictor of success for these cadets than IQ or standardized test scores (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). Successful leaders pursue goals with passion, don’t back down from challenges, don’t allow a failure to define who they are as a person, and simply put, don’t quit.
Joel Baker said it best: “A leader is a person you will follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself.” What steps can you start taking today to make your leadership style a success?
They manage their energy
Jim Loehr, co-author of the Harvard Business Review article entitled, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete,” describes an ideal performance state as prolonged and sustained high performance over time. Successful leaders become adept at moving between energy expenditure (stress) and energy renewal (recovery). In order to get the energy renewal required to live and work in an ideal performance state, successful leaders know when to refill their tank. Burnout is a potential reality for people in high-stress professions, and successful leaders keep burnout at bay by knowing how and when to take a break.