educational leadership

Running a school, just like running any other organization or company, is no easy task. I know all too well: you need to juggle rules and regulations with the interests and needs of parents and staff while you put your students first and center of everything you do and while you take care of day-to-day operations.

As if all that weren’t enough, oftentimes you have to do it without enough funding, inadequate facilities, insufficient staff and lack of social support. In that context, educational leadership is not an option; in that context, educational leadership is a necessity.

My definition of educational leadership implies that

the Principal will become a leader capable of designing the strategies, using the tools and implementing the initiatives that will transform the school into a successful learning institution.”

To do that, the Principal will have to be pro-active and articulate a long-term vision for the school -one that will bring together all the stakeholders (students, parents, administration, staff, community) to make it possible.

For that leadership to be truly effective, this must trickle down to all the aforementioned stakeholders, in a process of collective empowerment. As Jack Welch put it,

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

That means that a Principal must be able to see the potential in everyone around him/her and motivate them to develop it, creating an atmosphere that fosters personal and professional growth, based on mutual trust. Without that, the Principal will lack the manpower to bring his/her long-term vision to fruition.

No easy task, for that vision must be ambitious (otherwise it would not be transformative) while realistic (otherwise it would be just a dream). For that, it must be based on data, collected using different methodologies (surveys, personal interviews, social profiles), and analyzed with a scientific mindset.

The result of that analysis should then be the foundation for a process of unhurried meditation, with the participation of all the stakeholders (together or separate), that could be completed with an event where the future of the school would be open to debate.

The conclusions of that debate should then be the guiding principles to be used by the Principal to articulate his/her proposals for action, which will include:

  • some short-term, to tackle the most urgent issues confronted by the school
  • some medium-term, to consolidate the process of transformation
  • some long-term, to redefine the school under the new vision

Once those proposals for action are clearly defined, it is essential to set a policy that I would define as of radical transparency (term coined by Clive Thompson back in 2007). That is, all the planning and all the actions designed to develop that long-term vision will be detailed (including stages, dates and milestones) and public -both in the school and on the web.

With all that in mind, it is only natural that great attention should be paid to the policies, channels and tools of communication, especially relevant to gather information, to share, to motivate and to listen -all tasks a Principal should take to heart and never delegate. To do that, the Principal should use all the resources available in an open and creative way.

For that, and to improve the workflow in the school, the Principal should make an intensive and efficient use of all the tools and resources technology provides -to make better use of the limited time, human resources and facilities available. To be more productive, in one word.

While all that is well and good, the Principal should never lose sight of the ultimate goal of any educational organization: to empower our students so that they have the knowledge, resources, abilities and skills needed to face successfully the personal and professional challenges posed by a complex and ever-changing society.

The same could be said about our schools: our staff needs to be part of a continuous process of training and re-training, open to new methodological approaches, new learning models, new tools and processes. A process that also needs to be led by a Principal who anticipates the training needs of their team members.

Many tasks and responsibilities for a Principal, right? Undoubtedly. That is why it is important that the Principal be able to generate a support network, inside and outside the school, of people, organizations and institutions where to seek advice and help when needed. Because Principals do not need to be superheroes.

Ultimately, paraphrasing Tony Gaskins,

If you don’t build your school, someone will hire you to build theirs.”

There is still time to do just that, to take our future into our own hands and work to build it according to our vision. Just remember, the future can’t wait, so act now.

Additional watching: The Tattooed, Skater Principal Making Education Fun Again