Since most leadership research doesn’t focus on school leadership, how do we know what’s most important for school leaders? After all, schools are unique institutions. It stands to reason that they require a unique kind of leadership.
Thankfully, Independent School Management conducted research on school leadership and found that effective school leaders do the following exceptionally well:
- Vigorously seek to develop a faculty culture focused on professional development
- Give public, positive reinforcement to deserving employees and students
- Promote an ongoing faculty conversation regarding high expectations and support for students
- Establish a faculty-wide conversation regarding professional development
- Place great emphasis on having high expectations tailored to each student
- Demonstrate an inspired and inspirational commitment to the school’s mission
- Sustain high levels of self-awareness and self-management
- Exhibit determined pursuit of their own professional growth programs
It’s great to know where to focus to be an exceptional leader. It’s quite another thing to focus on those areas with all the competing demands of school leadership. Even if you can focus on one or more of the areas in which you need to improve, developing and implementing a plan successfully can be very elusive.
How does one develop a faculty culture that is focused on professional growth and development? Sometimes the complaining and bickering seems to drown out the voices of those devoted to learning, sharing and supporting each other. It would be fabulous to have an ongoing conversation among teachers about ways to improve teaching – one that would dominate the discussions in the faculty lounge and infuse teachers with the same passion for learning that we want our students to demonstrate. The question is, how does one create that awesome reality?
The same questions and challenges apply to the other areas that exceptional school leaders focus on. Knowing what makes a school leader exceptional is one thing. Knowing how, when and where to get to the what is quite another.
It’s easier said than done. The urgent constantly gets in the way of the important.
That’s why it’s important to have a leadership coach. Do you know any successful athletes without a coach? A school leader coach will help you address one, some or all of the critical areas above and become an exceptional leader. School leadership coaching is like a personalized leadership development program. The only agenda of your leadership coach is to help you in whatever way you need assistance. Whether you need to develop your skills as an inspirational school leader, develop self-awareness or develop in any other way as a leader, the most effective and cost-efficient way to go is with a school leader coach.
Contact us to get started with your leadership coaching and a personalized leadership development program.
By now, you probably know a lot about school leadership. You’ve taken courses, received training and attended conferences on effective school leadership.
If you’re like most people, much of what you studied remains in your notes and on your list of things to do. Most you simply don’t remember.
That’s okay. The data is overwhelming. We’ve become data junkies living in data junkyards. In education, everything is about data these days – data-driven decisions, data-driven instruction, data-driven leadership. Next thing you know, we’ll have data-driven play. The data will always be there. More will arrive. You can find it anytime and try out new skills and techniques.
Don’t get me wrong. Data has its rightful place. We can and must learn from it. But expertise and skills learned from data analysis do not an exceptional leader make.
Your relationships make you an exceptional leader, or not. Relationships are the key. And relationships are an art form in the truest sense of the word.
When you walk into your school, lead a faculty meeting, talk with parents and chat with students, your relationships are far more important than your leadership skills and expertise. Your ability to connect with people, and to maintain strong relationships built on trust and respect define your leadership. Skills and expertise are the icing on the cake.
The key to healthy relationships is self-differentiation. Emotionally, exceptional leaders are not dependent on anything other than themselves. They are self-sufficient and live without undue anxiety or over-dependence on others. Their sense of worth comes from within and is independent of relationships, circumstances and events.
Exceptional leaders understand that the emotional processes going on within their schools are extraordinarily powerful – much more powerful than ideas, goals or any other leadership tool. The emotional life of an organization is like the wind and waves. The sailor who tries to overcome them will likely fail, whereas positioning oneself to let the natural force assist will take the ship in the right direction.
The art of exceptional leadership is the capacity to be a steady, non-anxious and challenging presence, and to be connected to people but not enmeshed in the emotional processes. In short, the exceptional leader is first and foremost emotionally intelligent. Leadership through presence and self-differentiation is not easy. Be prepared to lose friends and experience the pain of isolation and personal attacks. It comes with the territory.
So do the rewards. And they are endless. Exceptional school leadership creates exceptional schools. Is anything more beautiful?
Emotional intelligence is more important than cognitive intelligence for success in life and leadership, especially school leadership. Schools are highly emotional places. The ability to lead in an emotionally intelligent way is critical to your success as a school leader. Executive coaching that includes emotional intelligence assessment is a powerful way to strengthen your school leadership skills.
Emotional Self-Awareness: I’m not talking about the touchy feely, but rather the ability to be keenly aware of one’s own feelings and behaviors and their impact on others. As leaders, our emotions and behaviors have a tremendous impact on the people in our school communities, whether we like it or not. Frequently, leaders are quite oblivious to the impact. Assessing, understanding and taking action to improve emotional self-awareness is essential for school leaders to be at the top of their game.
Assertiveness: School leaders must constantly express and defend their feelings, beliefs and thoughts to colleagues, parents, students and other community members. Are you too assertive, not assertive enough or just right in your assertiveness? Do you know how people perceive your assertiveness? We often need to be assertive in leadership roles, and assertiveness is usually welcome by those around us. But sometimes we become overly assertive and create serious problems in our school communities. Finding the right balance in assertiveness can be tricky business.
Independence: Most leaders are self-directed and not dependent on others. In fact, many leaders are too independent and pursue their goals without respect to the implications for those around them. Too much of a good trait in the wrong place or time can be a problem. Leaders certainly need to be independent, self-directed and free of emotional dependency on others. At the same time, as leaders we need to know how our colleagues perceive us and moderate our behavior accordingly.
Self-Regard: Self-regard is about accepting and respecting ourselves, our strengths and our weaknesses. High self-regard requires a deep understanding of self. As school leaders, we are constantly in the spotlight and must often summon up strength in areas where we feel weak. It’s okay to project strength even when we feel weak. Sometimes we just have to fake it until we make it. The important part is that we truly understand and respect our strengths and weaknesses.
Self-Actualization: Some people are way too self-actualized. They are in cloud nine of self-actualization and out of touch with reality. The perfectly self-actualized person, who’s apparently between cloud four and five, has the ability to set personal goals and achieve them in a way that realizes personal potential in their lives. So, as a school leader, please check your cloud habitation. Where are you in the process of self-actualization as a school leader? Are you actively engaged in setting and achieving personal goals? If not, it’s time to get started.
The five areas of emotional intelligence discussed above are part of the EQ-i (Emotional Intelligence Inventory). Contact me at jdhollinger@hollinger-international to take the EQ-i to assess your emotional intelligence and become a better leader.
Excellent project-based teaching engages students in meaningful and relevant learning. Students in project-based environments are motivated and involved learners. Teachers use guided inquiry and a transdisciplinary approach to nurture in-depth learning. They focus students’ work and deepen their learning by centering on significant issues, concepts, questions and problems. A project-based approach helps students learn important content, develop intellectual capacities and acquire essential skills, from calculating to collaborating.
The project-based approach to teaching creates for students the need and desire to learn essential content and skills. Project-based learning begins with a vision for a product that requires learning specific knowledge, skills and concepts, thus creating a context and rationale to study the information and ideas. Learning content across disciplines creates context for students, which results in a much higher level of understanding than that attained through traditional teaching of subject areas in isolation.
Project-based learning necessitates inquiry to discover or construct new knowledge and understanding. Inquiry demands that students explore new ideas, consider options, solve problems and share what they have learned. They must work collaboratively and use critical thinking and problem solving skills. Students need to do much more than remember information—they need to construct knowledge, develop understanding and solve complex problems wile working together in a team. Students must listen to each other, articulate their own ideas and present projects effectively.
One of the many advantages of project-based learning is that students have a voice and choice. Students become skilled at working independently and assume responsibility for their work when they have the opportunity to make choices. Another benefit is the process of feedback and revision, in which students critique each others’ work. In the end, students present their results publicly. The process of preparing and delivering a project presentation in and of itself is a significant learning experience for students.
In summary, projects contain and frame the curriculum. The content of projects typically includes several disciplines and multiple skills. Students gain a deep understanding of the concepts that are central to the project. They develop critical skills in a variety of skill areas according to the nature of the project. Projects also foster and an enduring love for learning. They can encourage students to address global and local issues, explore interests and build on strengths, interact with adults in various professions, use educational technology, and present their work to audiences beyond the classroom. Project-based learning usually motivates all students and almost always has a life-changing impact on students who might otherwise find school boring or meaningless.
Strategic planning is essential for private schools. It defines where a school is headed and how it will get there. One of the most effective ways to develop a strategic plan is through Appreciative Inquiry. A strengths-based approach, Appreciative Inquiry is an excellent alternative to traditional strategic planning.
The Appreciative Inquiry approach to strategic planning focuses on strengths, opportunities, aspirations and results (SOAR). Through strategic inquiry, schools identify their greatest strengths and the best opportunities. Then they align strengths with opportunities. Next, Appreciative inquiry is used to envision and discuss the ideal future or aspirations. And finally, it is essential to identify measurable outcomes or results.
There are various ways to conduct a strategic planning process using Appreciative Inquiry. Clearly, it is essential to determine who will participate in the process. So the first step is to identify the stakeholders and the best ways to engage them in a strategic planning process based on Appreciative Inquiry. While it is not necessary and probably not possible nor desirable to engage all members of the community, it is important to include stakeholders from as many school constituencies as possible, e.g. faculty, staff, board, parents, students, alumni, etc.
The next step is the inquiry into strengths and opportunities. By engaging members of various constituencies, it is possible to identify many strengths and opportunities throughout the school and larger community. This process will also reveal the conditions that lead to success in various areas of school operations. It is important to identify unique strengths. Threats and weaknesses are not ignored. They are reframed and analyzed through the lens of possibility. The focus is on how to achieve goals.
The third step is to dream about the possibilities and identify aspirations. Of course, it is also necessary to be realistic. In this stage, schools create a compelling vision centered on high aspirations. The vision is based on the school’s mission, best traditions and successes of the past while also charting a new course for the future.
Finally, the strategic planning process must focus on implementation and results. Action plans for each goal are essential. Individuals must step up to the plate. People must organize into teams and commit to working together to achieve the goals. Critical to an effective strategic plan is the ongoing process of evaluation and adjustment to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road. To be successful and valuable, strategic planning must be a dynamic and continuous inquiry.
The single greatest determinant of student learning is the faculty. Teachers are far more important than the curriculum, facilities, administration or any other aspect of a school’s operations. As such, investment in teachers will yield a high rate of return. Central to determining teacher effectiveness is faculty culture. A healthy faculty culture is essential for students to learn and teachers to teach at the highest levels of their abilities. On the flip side, an unhealthy faculty culture is a disease that permeates the life of the school community and saps energy for learning.
We know that faculty culture and the nature of relationships among adults in schools is a significant determinant of students’ academic and social progress. While subject-area knowledge and teaching skills are necessary, a school’s faculty culture, more than any other factor, determines the level of student learning. Yet, sadly, faculty culture is typically characterized by departmentalization, turf wars and isolation. As Roland Barth states so well, “All too often, the adult relationships are (in that wonderful phrase from preschool education) parallel play. For hours at a time, two- and three-year-olds in a sandbox can be so engrossed in themselves, in their own work and project and tools, that they are oblivious to anybody else in the sandbox. This is thought to be a stage of development through which two- and three-year-olds soon pass on their way to far more sophisticated forms of human interaction. But I’d say that parallel play characterizes most of what I see going on in schools. The self-contained classroom is parallel play. The English department that doesn’t interact with the math department is parallel play. One school doing one thing, the school a mile down the road doing something different, oblivious to each other, is parallel play. Parallel play is endemic. It’s as if we have a case of professional arrested development.” Unfortunately, Barth is correct. Fortunately, schools that invest in developing and maintaining a healthy faculty culture significantly improve student learning, create a dynamic and engaging learning community and establish a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Although schools must ultimately define healthy faculty culture for themselves, traits such as collegiality, trust, validation, creativity, recognition, innovation and humility contribute to creating and sustaining a healthy faculty culture. Conversely, cynicism, suspicion, defensiveness, poor communication and isolation are examples of traits that create an unhealthy culture. A faculty culture characterized by enthusiastic commitment to learning and personal growth, collaboration, and unremitting devotion to each and every student’s success is essential for student learning to thrive. We need to elevate learning at all levels above all other concerns, activities and goals, and value dearly experimentation, new ideas, adventure and discovery. Teachers must teach teachers, observe each other, give constructive feedback, and collaborate across disciplines. Learning is at its best in a school culture, created by adults and students, which values leaning above all else. In fact, research clearly demonstrates that student learning correlates directly to adult learning. Assessing, analyzing and improving faculty culture is all about learning together as a faculty and staff.
The process of defining and building a healthy faculty culture involves both administrators and teachers. The first step is to assess the existing faculty culture. Several faculty culture assessment tools are available to assist with faculty culture assessment. The Faculty Culture Profile by Independent School Management is one good example. The second step is to analyze the information and develop an action plan to address the issues and improve faculty culture. Total faculty involvement and strong leadership from the school’s head and other administrators are essential. The analysis of the results of the assessment will likely surface some difficult issues. Dealing with these issues openly, honestly and respectfully is critical to building a healthy faculty culture. The process of addressing the problems must be forward looking and solution oriented. While it is necessary to identify current conditions and the reasons for their existence, the action plan to build a healthy faculty culture must be completely focused on steps that can be taken going forward.
The demand for K-12 international educational programs that include language training is increasing dramatically in the United States. Arabic, in particular, is experiencing dramatic growth. Designated a “strategic” language by the U.S. government, Arabic faces unprecedented demand for instruction in schools across the U.S., from kindergarten upwards. Not long ago, Middle Eastern languages comprised only 2 percent of all foreign language classes in the United States. A Modern Language Association survey revealed a 92 percent rise in Arabic enrollments between 1998 and 2002 — to 10,600. From 2002-2006, the number of students enrolled in Arabic courses in college increased from 10,584 students to 23,974 students—a 126.5% jump.
The U.S. Department of Education has responded to meet the demand for new Arabic education. Federal funds for various international education programs are up 33 percent since 2001 to $103.7 million in 2004. Specifically, grants for foreign language and area studies rose 65 percent during this period. A myriad federally-funded opportunities are available for students and educators to learn Arabic in the United States. The U.S. government is also encouraging schools to start language training sooner. “We’re living in a global society,” said Wilbert Bryant, deputy assistant secretary for higher education in the U.S. Department of Education. “We must be able to speak the languages of many countries. The only way is to start at K-12. It’s the only way to remain competitive and retain our position as the superpower in the world.”
In addition to Arabic, the rise of China is driving new demand for Chinese language speakers across business and social sectors. Yet schools throughout the United States are largely unprepared to meet this need, lacking qualified teachers, programs, or creative uses of modern educational technologies, according to a study by Asia Society. The report, entitled “Expanding Chinese Language Capacity in the United States,” calls for a national commitment to new investments in teaching Chinese language and culture. Created by Asia Society’s education division, the report documents a growing consensus among national security and business leaders, educators, and foreign language experts. Its analysis of the current status of Chinese language instruction concludes that the current infrastructure to support recruitment of students and teachers as well as the growth of high quality programs is woefully inadequate.
As China grows into a major world player, Chinese language skills are becoming critical to national prosperity and security. Yet, a recent study shows only 24,000 students in grades 7-12 study Chinese, a language spoken by 1.3 billion people. In contrast, more than one million students learn French, a language spoken by only 80 million people. “Our nation’s schools are locked in a time warp. By ignoring critical languages such as Chinese and the essential cultural knowledge needed to succeed, our school systems are out of step with new global realities. This report urgently highlights the need for an expanded national commitment to world languages and international studies,” said Charles Kolb, President of the Committee for Economic Development.
The nature of relationships among adults in schools is the single greatest determinant of students’ academic and social success. While subject-area knowledge and teaching skills are necessary, a school’s culture – especially faculty culture – creates the conditions for teaching and learning. Yet, sadly, faculty culture is typically characterized by departmentalization, turf wars and isolation. As Roland Barth articulates so well, “All too often, the adult relationships are (in that wonderful phrase from preschool education) parallel play. For hours at a time, two- and three-year-olds in a sandbox can be so engrossed in themselves, in their own work and project and tools, that they are oblivious to anybody else in the sandbox. This is thought to be a stage of development through which two- and three-year-olds soon pass on their way to far more sophisticated forms of human interaction. But I’d say that parallel play characterizes most of what I see going on in schools. The self-contained classroom is parallel play. The English department that doesn’t interact with the math department is parallel play. One school doing one thing, the school a mile down the road doing something different, oblivious to each other, is parallel play. Parallel play is endemic. It’s as if we have a case of professional arrested development. When adult relationships in schools are interactive, too often they are adversarial. As one teacher said, “You know we educators have drawn our wagons into a circle and trained our guns…on each other.” As if there aren’t enough people outside shooting at schools.”
Research clearly demonstrates that student learning correlates directly to adult learning. A faculty culture characterized by enthusiastic commitment to learning and personal growth, collaboration, and unremitting devotion to each and every student’s success is essential. In our schools, we need to elevate learning at all levels above all other concerns, activities and goals, and value dearly experimentation, new ideas, adventure and discovery. Teachers must teach teachers, observe each other, give constructive feedback, and collaborate across disciplines and languages. Learning is at its best in a school culture, created by adults and students, that values leaning above all else.
People who believe that standardized testing is a measure of quality education can’t see the forest for the trees. The current obsession with standardarized test scores diverts resources and energy away from authentic, meaninful and relevant learning. Consider the teachers who give students a list of words for a spelling test. Typically, most words on the list are not directly connected to other areas of study, are rarely, if ever, used in conversation and encountered occasionally at best while reading. Dutifully – or not – students memorize spellings for the test, most of which they will forget shortly thereafter. Another student receives a box of flash cards with vocabulary words from a company that charges $1,500 to help prepare students for the SATs. The message on the box is that memorizing the vocabulary words will likely increase the student’s SAT score. So, students spend hours upon hours memorizing words, the vast marjority of which they will promptly forget. Teachers stand in front of classes, deliver lectures and lessons, and give quizzes and tests. Students spend hours and hours memorizing the material for the tests. In fact, approximately 85 percent of educational services in public and private middle and high schools today is delivered in large-group didactic instruction, which is a well-documented weak method. Research shows that students remember only five percent of the content of a lecture six weeks later. They cram for exams, most of which they forget shortly after the tests.
Contrary to standard practices today, students learn best when their minds, bodies and emotions are engaged in meaningful and relevant learning, in juxtaposition to sitting in chairs at desks listening to teachers expound on a body of knowledge. Students need to participate actively in all phases of the learning process for learning to be meaningful, relevant and memorable. When teachers introduce “units of inquiry” organized around central ideas that guide teaching and learning across disciplines, students are more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn – and remember what they learned.
We need to dispense with the antiquated notion that schools have two classes of citizens, the learners (students) and the learned (teachers). A new paradigm establishes first and foremost a commitment to the schoolhouse as a community of learners, where all engage in, model, and support in others the most important business of the schoolhouse – learning. In such a schoolhouse, students will be inspired to learn and achieve far above and beyond standard expectations. The result will be superior performance, which is best measured using authentic assessment tools. And for those addicted to standardized tests, the test scores of students from schoolhouses filled with inquiring student and adult learners will cure them of the addiction forever.
Danny Hollinger serves as President of Hollinger International, an education and leadership development firm focused on helping clients establish new schools and education programs, improve existing schools and education programs and strengthen leadership. Dr. Hollinger specializes in International Baccalaureate Programmes, leadership development and coaching, strategic planning and governance.
In addition to consulting, Dr. Hollinger is launching a new education blog. A visionary education entrepreneur with a distinguished track record in designing and delivering highly successful educational programs and services for students from diverse economic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, Dr. Hollinger is looking forward to contributing to education reform through blogging.
Prior to consulting, Dr. Hollinger founded, built and led two international schools – transitioning them from start-up to full-scale operations. He developed pioneering dual-language immersion, International Baccalaureate Programmes in Arabic, English, French, Greek, Mandarin and Spanish. Dr. Hollinger created and led high-performing and collaborative faculty, management and leadership teams. He established partnerships with corporations, foundations, governments, schools and universities worldwide, and acquired and developed five campuses.
Dr. Hollinger serves on George Mason University’s FAST TRAIN Advisory Board and Next Generation Education Foundation’s Board of Directors. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington.
Hollinger Associates International specializes in the following areas:
· Establishing New Schools and Education Programs
· Improving Existing Schools and Education Programs
· Implementing International Baccalaureate Programmes
· Teaching World Languages Effectively
· Improving Student Performance and Annual Yearly Progress
· Providing Professional Development Services for Inquiry-Based, Interdisciplinary Teaching
· Developing Compelling Visionary Leadership
· Creating a Vibrant, Innovative Organizational Culture
· Building Collaborative, High-Performing Teams
· Selecting and Supporting Talented Leaders
· Planning Strategically
· Developing Strategic Governance
· Coaching Leaders