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5 High-Impact Moves for School Leaders

In this article, part of an ongoing series highlighting some of the most compelling authors in the K-12 education world, you’ll find five perspectives on improving school leadership. Specifically, these leadership actions are designed to improve teaching and learning outcomes. 

How can school leaders reflect on their methods to better understand their influence on teachers and school culture? What are some opportunities leaders can look for to enhance relationships, increase motivation, and accelerate growth even in remote learning settings? These ideas, drawn from previous conversations with the authors, provide food for thought and useful tactics to apply to the current semester and also in the future.

Read below to examine and absorb five in-depth ideas that can play a role in improving leadership efforts.

1. Don’t let hierarchy stifle teachers’ creative energies

Dr. Kulvarn Atwal, author of The Thinking School: Developing a Dynamic Learning Community

“Many schools are very hierarchical environments. You have a principal and vice principal. A principal tells the vice principal what to do. The vice principal tells the department leaders what to do. The department leaders tell the teachers what to do. They’re very controlled. It encourages monitoring and compliance.

What I’m arguing is that we need to release the creative energies of those people who are at the front line. So we actually agree on the outcomes we want for our children and that teachers are in far greater control of deciding what the curriculum is and how the curriculum is taught.

In the thinking school, all teachers will be engaged in research and reflection. The opposite of a thinking school will be one that’s characterized by control so that everything happening in the classroom is teacher-led, and children are passive recipients of knowledge.”

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Kulvarn Atwal: What Is a Thinking School?

2. Create a nucleus of leaders

Eric Kalenze, author of What the Academy Taught Us: Improving schools from the bottom-up in a top-down transformation era

“In this accountability era that we’ve been in, a lot of the changes became much more centrally guided and, in a lot of ways, erased the psychology of the school in that the principals were far more concerned about doing right by the district than necessarily having their own vision. It sometimes competes with what they’re told in their professional development that often involves an emphasis on being true instructional leaders. Then they get back to their site, and it’s like, ‘We really just need you to be a soldier for what the district has determined.’

It creates a ‘this, too, shall pass’ mentality where it’s ‘yes, the district doing this now and that’s going to eat up all of our time, and we’ll be getting trained on this until someone at the district decides this doesn’t work and they switch emphasis.’

A principal I worked for had an immensely strong idea of creating the right psychology in school and getting teacher leaders on board in a nuclear way – a nucleus of leaders who authentically lead. It was contagious among the rest of the staff. Everyone started to figure out how to approach the problems we had very clearly identified and appropriately designed. We had a very ‘team-first’ psychology.”

Listen to the full interview with Eric Kalenze: Driving Change from the Bottom-Up

3. Have a clear vision and care deeply

Emma Turner, author of Be More Toddler: A Leadership Education From Our Little Learners

“The book, ideally, is to completely smash the model of leadership to say, ‘There is no one kind of leader out there because leaders are people first, leader second.’ If you’ve got something to bring to the table, you can be a leader.

If you have a clear vision and care deeply about the people you work with and the communities you serve, and are driven by a deep core of moral purpose and righteous indignation, you can be a leader because you can gain confidence from your beliefs. You can convince other people to kind of come with you. You don’t have to be, as it says in the book, ‘the lavish crowing cockerel in the yard’ to do that. You just have to have integrity, humility, belief, and vision. Then, you can bring people with you.

If a toddler can affect change in a household, everything from sleep schedules to the food you buy to the way you arrange your furniture and don’t even speak or go to the toilet properly ─ then leadership needs complete demystifying. Leadership isn’t difficult if you know what you want, you care about people, and you’re very clear about where you’re going together.”

Listen to the full interview with Emma Turner: Eye-Opening Leadership Lessons From Our Youngest Learners 

4. Be thoughtful in how you treat teachers’ time

Kat Howard, author of Stop Talking About Wellbeing: A Pragmatic Approach to Teacher Workload

“A senior leader has to choose and select deliberately and thoughtfully what they are filling a teacher’s week with because there is a finite amount of time. We cannot continue to operate at top speed, working 50, 60, or 70 hours a week because we don’t know where the boundaries are, and we don’t know when to stop. Otherwise, in five years’ time, you will be talking about recruitment and retention [issues]. Our recruitment crisis will peak in two or three years based on the increase in population wastage figures. That’s when the real peak comes.

We have to think about how we’re presenting our profession outwardly at the moment to ensure that we encourage people back to the profession. We have a quarter million teachers in the U.K. that don’t currently teach. That’s insane.”

Listen to the full interview with Kat Howard: Taking a Pragmatic Approach to Teacher Workload

5. Invest in professional development

Tom Sherrington, co-author of Teaching WalkThrus with Oliver Caviglioli

“In terms of this current period being difficult in making people think, I hope there is a silver lining, and it makes people think about what they want school to be like when they return.

Teacher retention and recruitment is an issue in the U.S. and the U.K. How do we make teachers feel important, valued, and feel they’re developing? Professional learning. It takes that feeling of being part of the discussion and having a stake in it that is so important.

It would be great if more school leaders are determined to return to full schooling with the sense of ‘I really want to invest in my staff. I want them to feel that they’re part of this journey.’ And what’s the best evidence around good teacher development? One [emphasis] is very much around instructional coaching as part of the wider professional learning context. The top-down judgmental thing isn’t strongly evident even when people do it. The overall impact is pretty poor because teachers’ judgments can be so wayward. It’s going to come from within.”

Listen to the full interview with Tom Sherrington: Every Picture Tells a Story: Instructional Coaching Artfully Defined

Find books written by these authors and many more leading educators and experts by visiting us.johncattbookshop.com

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