1. Teacher Life

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Leader #Podcast

Since I initially recorded this podcast in early February, a lot in our world has changed since then. Instead of posting this now, I hope that you can glean some insights from what I am sharing and create some ideas to apply to today’s context.  That is the whole premise of the Innovator’s Mindset. What will you do with what you know?

I discuss the following idea in this podcast;

“You might be ready to lead, but are others ready to follow you?”

I wrote the original post for “principals” but I think that it applies to leadership at all levels and in all positions.  Leadership, to me, is having the ability to move others forward in a positive direction. Based on that definition, it can be done at any level.

I will discuss the ideas from the original post in this podcast, but also give some new ideas and thoughts in the audio.

You can check out the full podcast on Apple iTunes, Soundcloud, or Spotify. You can also read the slightly “updated” post below.


5 Questions You Should Ask Your Leader

A superintendent recently asked me if I had some questions to ask his principals to start the year.  The items I gave him are based on the following areas:

  • Fostering Effective Relationships
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Embodying Visionary Leadership
  • Developing Leadership Capacity
  • Creating Sustainable Change

In my opinion, the position of “principal” in educational organizations can have the most impact on the work and learning of others than any other role.  Many studies reiterate this, but I think it is that they have the most authority closest to kids.  It is not to say that any other role is “less” necessary to the work in education. Each job is vital to the success of schools and the success of students.  But a great principal will help to develop great teachers, and a weak principal might do the opposite. They also tend to push great teachers out of schools, although most of the time unintentionally. Ineffective leaders tend to drive away great talent away.  A great teacher can become even better with a great principal.  As the very wise Todd Whitaker says, “when the principal sneezes, the whole school gets a cold.”

Even though the questions were developed for superintendents to ask principals, I think that they should be questions any educator, parent, and even student should be able to ask their Principal openly.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships) – When asking a principal this question, it is vital to look for answers that go beyond the standard solutions like staff meetings, emails, etc.  I would look for clues that go above and beyond what is expected.  For example, one of the best principals that I knew spent every morning welcoming staff and students to the school at the main doorway.  He would ask questions about their family, talk to them about their lives, and get to know them in a much deeper way that had a lasting impact and created a deeper connection.  Although this Principal has been retired for a few years, many of his staff refer to him as legendary because of the way that he would go above and beyond connecting with kids and community, before, during, and after school.

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership) Covey talks about two critical areas for leaders; character and credibility.  Many principals are great with people, yet do not understand the art and science of teaching, or have lost touch with what it is like to be in the classroom.  Although a leader does not need to be the master of all, they should be able to be still able to walk into a school and teach kids.  They should also definitely be able to lead the staff in workshops that focus directly on teaching and learning.  If teachers understand that a principal understands teaching and learning, any initiatives are more likely to be seen as credible in their eyes.

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning look like in your school, and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership) – There are many leaders in schools that often communicate a BIG PICTURE of what schools should look like, but can’t clearly communicate what it looks like for teachers and students. It is crucial to be able to discuss elements of learning that you are looking for in the classroom.  Not only is it essential to hold this vision, but to help develop it with staff and be able to communicate it effectively.  Many new educators walk into schools thinking that “quiet and order” are the expectations for classrooms, so even though they are doing some powerful work in their classes that looks quite messy, they are worried that it does not fit in with the vision of their boss. Due to this, many will often try to tailor their work to look like what they think the Principal wants because they don’t know what is expected.  Having a vision is essential, but communicating and developing that with staff is necessary.

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity) – Many principals are great at developing followers, but fewer are excellent at developing more leaders.  There has been this notion for years that you do everything to keep your best talent at all costs, but in reality, it is vital to figure out ways to develop people, even if that means they will eventually leave. Great schools have become “leadership” hubs that they are continually losing great people. Still, they often get a reputation of being places where leadership in all areas is developed, which tends to attract some great people. Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who is going to try to get the best out of you? There is a great quote that I’ve shared before (paraphrased) on this exact topic.

Many leaders are scared about developing people and then having them leave.  They should be more worried about not developing people and having them stay.

Again, great leaders develop more leaders.  What is your plan to make this happen?

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change) This has been a question that was asked of me years ago by my former superintendent and has been one that has always resonated.  What she had shared with me is that she should be able to walk into my school and see the impact that I have had as the leader of the building.  This is not to say we throw out what the former leader has done, in fact, quite the opposite.  Great leaders will not come into maintaining the status quo but will bring their unique abilities to a school that will help them get to the next level.  They will build upon what has been left, but they will work with a community to ensure that their impact on a school lasts long after their time serving the community.  This where all of the other questions above truly come together, but it takes time and dedication to make it happen.

The old notion is that teachers and students are accountable to a principal is one that is dying (thankfully).  Great principals know that to be truly successful, it is the Principal that is accountable and serves the community.  They will help create a compelling vision but will also ensure that they do whatever work is needed to be done to help teachers and students become successful.  I encourage you to talk to your Principal, no matter what your role, and ask her/him their thoughts on some of these questions provided.

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