It’s an exciting time to be an educator. Rapid advancements in technology and a shrinking and increasingly globalized world present us with amazing new challenges and opportunities that we must address in our practice as educators. Despite all these changes, some things remain constant. An effective school must be a caring community working together to achieve a higher purpose: the support and education of its students. Student learning and well-being must always be at the center of decision-making and action-taking in the school community.
My personal leadership approach is based in a dedication to strengthening and supporting students, faculty, and families in the school community by aligning systems, structures, policies, and practices towards the achievement of shared visions for student learning and well-being. Servant leadership, shared leadership, and systems thinking are underlying philosophies that act as frameworks for my school leadership approach.
Servant Leadership serves the underprivileged and results in those served growing to become healthier, wiser, and more likely to lead as servants themselves. Shared Leadership is the natural extension of servant leadership. Shared leadership seeks to promote the democratic participation of all members of the school community. Sergiovanni (2013) states that servant leadership can be provided best by ensuring that the values and ideals of the school as an organization and community are served as a shared commitment. Ideally, as schools are communities of learners, efforts towards school improvement will improve the school’s culture in such a way that the entire community of students, teachers, and parents will eventually be able to continue to sustain their future learning themselves. To achieve this goal, school leadership can be viewed as a developmental process through which initial command and instructional leadership practices can be applied to develop capacity towards a point at which students, faculty, and parents can share burdens of leadership and service to the school. Practices related to shared ideals rooted in a moral commitment to children become duties that teachers willingly take part in and that the entire community can support.
As a school leader, I model servant leadership by keeping the needs of students and the school’s vision central to the work I do. To ensure that the direction the school takes meets the needs of all stakeholders, I engage faculty and families in shared leadership by ensuring that they have direct input in decision making, creating change visions in the school, and leading that change. Authentic communication facilitates servant leadership when leaders ‘listen first’. Listening and learning can help leaders understand the motivations and perspectives of stakeholders to better problem solve and move learning forward in schools. Leaders must listen to the needs and beliefs of the school community when creating visions and determining goals in order to ensure that everyone can share the work of improving the learning and well-being of the students that the school as a community serves. As a school leader, I believe in listening more than I speak and practicing active, mindful listening to ensure that colleagues’, parents’, and students’ views are understood and valued.
Systems Thinking is described by Peter Senge (2006) as “a discipline for seeing wholes” and “a framework for seeing interrelationships [and] . . . patterns of change. . . “ (p. 68). Systems thinking involves the understanding that the world is complex and made up of connected elements and is a useful tool for school leaders to use in managing schools as organizations. Systems thinking and the holistic view has been used to support the inclusion of parents as an integral part in school learning communities to support innovation. Schools are complex, with many systems interacting to support the functioning of the entire school. Systems thinking offers a framework for engaging with complexity and bringing together the numerous systems, structures, and stakeholders within the school to support positive growth and change. Given the number of factors affecting student learning and well-being, any approach to school leadership should focus on whole-school and community well-being supports.
As a school leader, I apply principles of systems thinking by being mindful of how people and processes affect one another, considering multiple viewpoints when charting paths forward, influencing others directly and indirectly, and taking care to determine the relative importance of different issues as they arise. Quality learning and well-being for the students that I serve is supported when the entire community within and around the school is strong and well, so as a leader I work to support community well-being and communication.
I believe that the work of education is important and that we’re in the midst of a time of great change. I believe that the kids I see everyday at school are going to inherit this sometimes messy world we’re leaving for them and will need a whole lot of skills to keep it in one piece for their kids to inherit one day in turn. That’s important. Being trusted with something as important as the stewardship of learning in a school community is a great honor and responsibility. As a school leader I will continue to strive to better make sure that kids today get ready for tomorrow’s world.