The Targeted Student: A Look at Educational Leadership and Beyond

“Good leadership is about improving the lives of your team members. “-Tony dungy

Leadership is the ability to guide, provide direction, and share a vision that will improve the lives of all team members. Leadership can and does mean different things to different people.

So who is the teaching team and where do they go?

Leaders can’t lead if they don’t know who their team is or where they’re going and what the vision is. Good school leaders know that the team includes staff, teachers, parents and students. They also know which direction they are heading through a board of directors, their vision, and feedback from representative stakeholder groups. Unfortunately, in too many schools, parents, community and students are left out unless it is an accreditation year.

Leading a school is not necessarily difficult, but the right mix of qualities can be difficult to find in one person. An effective leader must understand the system in which he works. A school system is very different from most business models, and yet it is a business. This means that leadership must know the community it serves: its needs and demands, the students (clients) and, more importantly, the staff and faculty (employees), as they provide “the direction.”

Another necessary quality is someone who can create a positive and inclusive culture for the school. A good leader must know when and how to make a decision. What doesn’t make a good leader is someone who is overly involved, over the top and controlling; or too careless, which can lead to aimless wandering. Some will make all the decisions, and some cannot make any decisions. The effective leader finds a productive balance.

An effective leader is a human person. They can interact with adults, community, students and family, explaining to everyone in an appropriate and accessible way the vision and implementation that will result in success while building buy-in and support.

In addition to leadership qualities, an effective leader needs specific knowledge which includes educational understanding, both theoretical and practical. A leader knows how to navigate the bureaucracy and understands educational policy making from Sacramento to La Cañada. They understand how the teachers were taught and their personalities. The principal will check in with each teacher or sit down from time to time in the teachers’ room to hear concerns.

Effective leaders know how to talk to staff and mingle with children at lunch or break. They know how to survey the premises with the guards in order to understand how the campus works, and how to call parents with news (good or bad) concerning their child. They know how to listen to parents and talk to them, while respecting their origin and their various situations which are a crucial element of each student’s learning environment. And leaders don’t take it personally. They sort between the realistic and the unrealistic. As parents, we all come from a different perspective. Good leaders understand this.

Leaders need to be creative, always thinking outside the box to resolve any issues that may arise. They also need to know the community in which they work. Spend time at Starbucks, shop in the markets, occasionally eat at restaurants, drop the mail at the post office, read the local newspapers and go to all the home games.

A former superintendent of schools in La Cañada, Don Ziehl, would take all new teachers by bus through the community so that they could see the different areas and understand that the community would expect a certain level of service. He fully understood that parents and students were customers, and even if they were not running the business, the school had to listen to them.

While an effective leader seems about as likely as a unicorn, that’s all the more reason to fully support you when you are lucky enough to have such a leader in your child’s school.

ROBERT FRANK is the Executive Director of the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada. He holds a Master of Science in Special Education and has over 40 years of teaching experience. His column appears on the last Thursday of each month. He can be contacted at frank@hillsideforsuccess.org.

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Janice G. Ball