As I prepare for the upcoming school year, it’s a perfect time to reflect on my priorities as a leader. I’ve come to realize there are some priorities that ring true for all educators. In no particular order, this is my list of the top 5 things I hope every educator knows!
1 - Always set high expectations.
Regardless of whether you are leading a building, teaching in a classroom, or even setting personal goals, I believe in the importance of setting high expectations. It is equally important to communicate those expectations very clearly. When expectations are clear, they will be supported, and they can be delivered! When expectations are high, status quo will be exceeded!
2 - Take time to invest in people.
Taking time to learn about your employees, students, and neighbors is always a worthwhile endeavor. In business or administration, excellent people = excellent systems. Excellent teachers = excellent classrooms. I think everyone can learn something from everyone. Take the time to appreciate & learn about the people around you. Relationships matter most.
3 - Practice a solution-focused mindset.
As a leader, my mission in life is to bring solutions to people instead of problems. Listen carefully to the people around you, and consider ways you might work toward solving an issue they are having. It’s what Southwest Plains has built our reputation on - Professional Learning...Innovative Solutions. My most successful colleagues and employees adhere to a personal code of working toward solutions rather than spending their time talking a problem or issue. Seek out new ways to make your systems more efficient, and look for ways to help, rather than detailing flaws in your current work.
4 - Learn something new every day.
We live in the information age, and I cannot stress enough the importance of taking time every day to learn something new. Whether you watch a YouTube Video tutorial over your lunch break, read before bedtime, or take in the news each morning, it’s important for personal growth to learn something new every day. Much of my time is spent traveling across the state working in various school districts. This means I have lots of ‘windshield time,’ as I fondly call it. The easiest way for me to squeeze in some new learning is through listening to audiobooks. Many of the consultants at Southwest Plains listen to podcasts, join in educational twitter chats, and share books with one another. What are some creative ways you squeeze new learning into your everyday schedule?
5 - Flaunt your failures like a champ.
This is something I try to model to my team each and every day. It’s OKAY to make mistakes - it’s how we learn and grow! Students AND teachers need to know that if you aren’t failing at something occasionally, you aren’t digging deep enough. The power in failing is taking in WHY something didn’t work out the way you intended and learning from that mistake. Failure IS an option, but it isn’t the FINAL outcome. My philosophy is to accept my failures, learn everything I can about that failure, and move toward the next goal. Admitting your mistakes doesn’t make YOU a failure - it makes you human. Growing and learning is a process, albeit not always an easy one, but it’s always worth it in the end.
It’s your turn! What top 5 things do you believe every educator should know? Join in the comments to share your experience & knowledge!
A position in education near and dear to my heart is that of a Principal - the building leader! After several years as a teacher, I was approached by my school board about moving to the administrative side of things. I was excited about the prospect of a new challenge, and we worked together to create a plan for me to move to a new role. You might consider me an original "Grown Your Own" principal.
I spent several years as a Principal at South Gray schools prior to working at Southwest Plains. I believe there were several key pieces to my learning that really helped me those first few years. As someone who works in multiple districts with a variety of Administrators, I have seen many factors that help new principals succeed.
Seek Internal Support
Every new principal can benefit from forming strong relationships within their own districts. Getting to know your staff, other administrators in the district, and seeking out mentors can vastly affect the success of a new principal. My mentor was George Smirl, and he played a key role in my journey to become a principal. He was patient, deliberate in his training, and set up careful scaffolding of my duties. He modeled them, released them to me in intervals, and was always available to me for support. Every new principal will benefit from a stronger network of support and mentorship, and for more extended periods of time than I often see in the field.
Build Your Network
A new building leader will benefit from joining a principal association and attending local councils as often as possible. It's important to form bonds with colleagues in the field. Being able to reach out to ask questions (large and small) is powerful. The collective pool of knowledge & experience is priceless. I would also recommend getting to know various department leads at the state level - they have a wealth of knowledge about every aspect of public schools and are always eager to help and share information.
Professional Learning is a MUST
While you may still be finishing up collegiate level work, it's important NOT to neglect personal development training as well. Leadership training is an investment in yourself, and one that will pay dividends throughout the years. As a principal, you are also expected to be an instructional leader. It is wise to be knowledgeable about the interventions and strategies teachers are expected to use in their classrooms - sit in on their trainings and in-services whenever possible. Be aware of the most current research and best practice.
I want to hear from you - what advice would you share with new principals/building leaders? What might have helped you on your personal journey? What do you wish you'd known that first year?
My path to to become a certified Adaptive Schools™ Seminar Trainer has NOT been easy, and it hasn’t always been fun, but it has been deeply fulfilling and is changing the way I teach, learn, and conduct meetings as CEO of my organization.
I was intrigued with the content from the very beginning. As someone who’s “been in the business” of learning for close to 20 years, I have both been a learner and advocate for the work of Rick & Becky DuFour on Professional Learning Communities. In fact, my doctoral dissertation was based on this very topic.
Adaptive Schools + PLCs/PCLs
Within my first experience as a participant of an Adaptive Schools Seminar, I began to see a clear correlation between the work of Thinking Collaborative™ and my knowledge on professional learning communities. I view PLCs as the “Why” and Adaptive Schools as the “How”....to move groups toward shared learning and collaborative growth . Adaptive Schools is a capacity building system for teams….to increase their capacity to collaborate, to share varying ideas of groups, and to support one another - even in the face of conflict.
One strategy I’ve really empowered my team to use is designating whether a meeting’s purpose is to Dialogue or Discuss. To Dialogue with one another is to gain a shared understanding of a topic. If the purpose is to Discuss an agenda item, then we work collaboratively to make a decision. Defining the outcome/purpose of an agenda item has truly transformed how meetings are conducted at Southwest Plains.
Let’s discuss how powerful (and at times - difficult) working as teams can be! As I continue to grow & learn - I want to know: How might teams you work with (PLCs, administrative groups, local councils and chambers, etc.) benefit from a more collaborative agenda? What are your struggles and strategies for working in groups? Comment below & let’s ALL benefit from our shared experience!
Kelly's insights on classroom observation, education, leadership, teaching, and mentoring.