The school administrator’s role is evolving from a building manager to an instructional leader. This shift is not easy, and all leaders strive to be the best they can be.
There are countless articles about being a good school leader, but we also need to learn how to recognize and avoid missteps. Although making a misstep can be a learning opportunity, taking the time to learn how to recognize and avoid common mistakes can help you become more productive, successful and respected by your staff. Here are nine examples of decisions or actions that can become problems for you and your school. Understanding these missteps is the first stage of avoiding them.
1. Trying to be popular
Too often, leaders think they have to please everyone. And worse: to please them all the time. Yes, leaders want to be well liked, but it is more important to be respected. Respect is gained by a leader who is consistent, has clear communications, sets expectations and clear boundaries, and makes tough (and usually necessary) decisions. Sometimes, tough decisions are not popular. I’ve found that if you keep students at the core of your decision-making and are consistent, most staffers will accept unpopular decisions, especially if you communicate your reasoning. Also, don’t forget to ask your staff (when you can) for their input before making a decision.
2. Not defining goals
When your staff doesn’t know your goals as a leader, they are not efficient educators, and it becomes difficult for them to support you. It is also challenging for staff to be productive if they don’t know or see what they’re working for or what their work means. Setting your goals as a leader is the road map for your success and the school’s growth.
3. Assuming you are right—instead of working to get it right
Often, leaders mistakenly think a title and a position means their way is automatically the right way. This comes from not listening to input from other staff members to add perspective and also engage their ownership and involvement in the decision-making process. The more time a leader spends involving their team at the beginning of the process, the easier it will be to carry forth a decision and move toward the established goal.
4. Talking the talk and not walking the walk
Leaders must mold their behavior to reflect what they want from staff. Successful leaders tend to be positive role models. A leader must lead by example: If teachers need to stay late, you should stay late to help them. Or, if the culture is that no staffers eat lunch in their classrooms, then set the example and eat in the staff room or with the students. The same goes for attitude. If you’re negative some of the time, your staff will be negative, too. If you are a positive leader, your team will be positive. Model the traits that you would like to see your staff members display.
5. Not providing feedback
A common misstep leaders make is not to offer constructive feedback to their staffers. When you don’t provide prompt feedback rooted in evidence, you’re depriving your staff of the opportunity to improve their practices. Not providing feedback also removes the boost of confidence staffers get when they’re told they’re doing a good job. To avoid this misstep, provide regular growth feedback, which is focused in an effective manner.
6. Failing to delegate
Some school leaders don’t delegate because they feel that no one but them can do tasks correctly. What quickly follows is stress and burnout. Delegation can take a lot of effort as it can be hard to trust your staff to do the work correctly. But unless you delegate, you’re never going to have time to focus on the vision and goals of your school. Leaders have a busy, full schedule, so it makes sense to ask others to handle a variety of tasks.
People must come first. If you are not available when they need you, your staff will feel not supported and will lose trust.
7. Not making time for staff
It’s easy to get wrapped up in email, phone calls, data and your own work. Before you know it, you are not available to your staff. People must come first. If you are not available when they need you, your staff will feel not supported and will lose trust. But consider the next point.
8. Not having a strategic open-door policy
Be careful. Make yourself available to your school community, but do it strategically. Block out the times in your daily and weekly calendar to focus on students and your goals as well as being visible through classroom visits. Schedule times during the week that are open for people to make appointments. Balance time with staff, but don’t lose focus of the goals of your day.
9. Meeting just because
Meeting for the sake of having regular meetings—particularly if there is nothing on the agenda—frustrates people. Plan meetings for a strategic purpose or to develop professional learning outcomes, not to disseminate information. Staff will appreciate this strategy and see you as understanding their needs. When you do meet, the staff will be focused and ready to contribute.
Leadership effectiveness results in enabling, supporting and empowering your staff to do everything in their ability to support learning. Avoid these nine missteps and jump right into leading.
Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts, and he was a featured speaker at FETC.