I often speak and write about how the principalship and the superintendency need to look different in the era of social media. And, while it can be difficult to distill ideas to a few key points, a recent post from Brian Verhoeven does a great job of summarizing what that leadership looks like, and while the post was not specific about schools or school systems, I think the messages are right on for our system.
Verhoeven’s post summarizes a discussion by authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant of Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World. The messages and the five key points about what makes a good organizational leader are very straightforward (my own thoughts are added below each point):
1. They provide clear direction.
This list rings true for our education system. Districts should set direction for schools, schools set direction for classes, and then leaders should step back and not micro-manage. This action allows staff autonomy to find their own solutions, with superintendents and principals providing clarity of direction, and not necessarily all the answers.
2. They use positive language when things change. They embrace change.
Principals and superintendents are often regarded and turned to in times of change, whether the changes are from government, in demographics, or in our understanding of teaching and learning, we always need to be out front and curious, with change not for the sake of change, but for different and better.
3. They are transparent and share information freely.
The era of control is over, or almost over. In the era of the instant, spending time thinking about “managing the message” has passed. There is an expectation of timeliness and that we remove the secretive nature of the work. Information is just that; the job of leaders it to make sense and direction of that information.
4. They reinforce the value of experimentation—even failure.
The quote I often use, borrowed from a former colleague in Coquitlam, is that “you don’t have to be sick to get better.” For us, in the West Vancouver school district, it is the notion and practice of a ‘culture of yes’, of thoughtful experimentation, and risk-taking, knowing we do not move forward unless we leave our comfort zone. The best school and district leaders are supportive of staff and students taking the risk, quick to give praise when it works out, but just as quick to shelter those taking risks from criticism when it doesn’t.
5. They talk aloud sharing their rationale and understanding with the team. They leverage the expertise of others to help them solve the tough problems.
Although the final decision is often made by one, along the way there are huge opportunities to leverage the brainpower of the room (whether that be a physical or digital room) to help ensure the best decisions are made. And, with such powerful and accessible networks, we would be remiss not to take advantage of this opportunity to make the best possible decisions.
A very straightforward, five-point list. Yes, but a very effective way of showing what we need today in educational leadership.