5 Leadership Strategies Every School Leader Must Consider

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Lead from the middle - Brilliant or Insane
Image credit: Times 10 Publications

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In the new Hack Learning Series book, Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning That Teachers, Students, and Parents Love (June, 2016), school leaders Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis discuss how important it is for leaders to be present and engaged with all stakeholders.

The Hack Learning Podcast episode embedded above shares the authors’ 5 strategies for moving beyond traditional leadership and engaging with all stakeholders daily, in a sneak peek at the new Hacking Leadership.

5 Quick Tips for Becoming a Lead Learner (an excerpt from Hacking Leadership)

Just listen. Block off at least two 15-minute times on your calendar each day for relationship building. During that time, you will check in with two different members of the community to find out how things are going. Open your ears to kids, teachers, parents, secretaries, colleagues, supervisors, and don’t just listen to them–you have to actually hear what they say, hear what they feel, hear what they need, hear what they perceive. Pay attention to every word, because they will share critical information that will strengthen your relationship. Keep a list of the people you have spoken with so you can make sure that everyone is heard.

Ask questions. Find out how things are going in general by sending a question to staff, students, or families. You can do this via a Google Form, a Twitter poll, a query to a Voxer group, or an email. Your question might be geared towards anything from getting a sense of staff morale to learning about community concerns. Follow up on the information you glean from the responses. We may not be able to connect on a face-to-face level with all members of the community each day but we can still allow them to be heard using digital platforms.

Hacking Leadership
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Make time for lunch with kids. Informal, but planned, face-to-face exchanges with students can provide critical insight that is not available from any other source. At Cantiague Tony regularly makes time to have lunch with kids. Sometimes they ask for a lunch date; sometimes they earn it as a reward for something they have done in the classroom; at other times Tony has a free block of time and he pulls a group of kids aside for some lunch and chatting. Although not all children feel comfortable having lunch with their principal, inviting students in a group (6 or fewer is ideal), will give them enough social support to loosen them up quickly and they will chat it up the entire lunch period. Even though it’s great to talk about everything from weekend plans to the group’s favorite songs, make sure to be intentional about some of the questions asked during the lunch “meeting” to elicit information from the children about how school is going from their perspective. Ask them about what they love about the school day; ask them about their favorite times of the week; ask them about the experiences they could do without; ask them how we could make school better for them. Remember, schools should be more about the kids and less about the adults.

Celebrate in public. Construct a real-time narrative that shows the community how dynamic and relevant school can be. You can easily accomplish this right away by creating a social media account for your school. It might be Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other medium that you already feel comfortable with. Make a post a day to share something amazing that is happening in your space. This one account will initiate a re-branding of your school, allowing you to create an identity by telling your story. Your school’s positive social media presence will help to counteract negative impressions that your community might have about school. Even though the media typically bashes public education and the landscape of education is not always a pretty one, we can have a voice in the discourse. Publicizing daily celebrations can be your entry point.

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Get out of your office. Open your calendar and block out time in the day to be visible, engaged, and present. Altogether, aim to spend about an hour’s worth of time outside your office. Transformative leaders don’t change the world by sending emails or scheduling meetings. Get out and engage with students, teachers, and anyone else you encounter. Spend time in the classrooms asking children what they are learning and why it is important–those two questions will give you insight into class dynamics and allow you to collect data you can use to plan for future PD. Play with kids during recess or lunch so they understand they are important to you and that you are always available to them. The informal conversations that will unfold during these times can be incredibly telling regarding how school looks or feels to kids. Ask teachers how to support their efforts. You must get out of the office if you are going to make the shift from administrator to leader.

How do you lead?

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A version of this post first appeared at HackLearning.org

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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