Monday, February 17, 2014

Student Driven Leadership

I recently interviewed with an independent agency whose goal was to find out what kind of leader I am. Through a series of what seemed like 60 questions, we spoke about various topics including handling disputes, navigating resistance, and how to motivate staff towards student achievement. I approached the interview with one goal in mind- keep the focus on the students. That's a very "teacher-y" answer, I know. As a school leader, sometimes its easy to lose that focus the further removed from the classroom we are and the more focused on managing adults we become.

Amber Teamann recently addressed this topic noting most of the decisions we make in schools are geared towards what is best for adults. She posed the following scenarios as evidence:

1. Master schedules are largely based on adult preference.
2. Some teachers will threaten to transfer if they do not get their classroom or schedule they want.
3. Administration will not address average or below average lessons for fear of rocking the boat.
4. Administration will look the other way if a teacher has poor methods but test scores are "fine."

If we look at our schools, we can probably find some evidence of decision making that is best for adults. There is nothing wrong with this. However, it's important that we continue to steer conversations back to what is best for kids. Here are three ways I think we can do it.

1. Support the staff in any way we can.

The moment I experience some sort issue at school, administrators usually respond with, "Let me know if there is anything I can do to help." I appreciate that stance. A supported teacher or staff member has the ability to do what is best for their students. If our ultimate goal is to swing conversations back to what is best for kids, we have to provide the support and the structure to allow the adults to be creative in their own domains.

2. Motivate the staff to be the better versions of themselves.

As a teacher, I believe that successful academic outcomes start with motivated students. Often times, we have to create the energy and drive for our kids. I think the same applies for a school leader working with the staff. Providing positive reinforcement that is both personal and genuine goes a long way in motivating teachers. Teachers deserve credit for incredibly well designed lessons. We should acknowledge our staff when they run through a wall for our kids. We work in a profession of extraordinary effort. Our praise and encouragement of these efforts should be extraordinary too.

3. Manufacture contact with kids whenever we can.

Supporting the initiative of a student driven school starts by listening to the students. Leaders who are in touch with their students can fully understand the pulse and culture of the building. Like a stock, the culture of the building can trend up or down. Its important that school leaders can "hedge" the trend by showing a genuine interest in students' voice. I think this interaction has to happen with student leaders, but also with overlooked groups of students too.

By supporting and motivating staff and keeping a pulse on what students are saying, I think school leaders can continue to shift the pendulum from a focus on their building, to a focus on their students.