3 Things I’m Learning about School Leadership

For the past two and half years I have been on a leadership journey.

I’ve read countless books about leadership from Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last to Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s Leverage Leadership 2.0 and Baruti K. Kafele’s Is My School Better Because I Lead It?

I have scoured online reading material, watched videos, joined Facebook groups and Twitter chats, all with one goal in mind – to be a “good” leader.

During this journey, I have discovered one profound “a-ha” and two recurring “truths”: (1) there are no bad leaders (only leaders to learn from); (2) the golden rule is still the golden rule (even when you’re a leader); and (3) communication (or the lack thereof) makes a relationship.

There are no bad leaders (only leaders to learn from)

My husband is a retired US Army First Sergeant. He is probably one of the most successful leaders I personally know. He led his troops into battle several times and was able to return them home with little to no collateral damage.

One night I decided to ask him about his own leaders and how he felt about them. I wanted to know which ones he thought were good and which were bad and why. What he said to me that night has stuck with me and has helped change my perspective on leadership.

He told me that he was asked, during a military board (basically an interview session for the next rank or promotion), to describe a bad leader. After carefully thinking over the question, he told the Sergeant Major that had asked him the question that he didn’t believe there was such a thing as a bad leader. He went on to explain that leaders are the people from whom we learn. We learn how we want to lead and how we don’t want to lead. And although we may not always agree with what our leaders do or say, we are always learning from them.

In educational leadership, we sometimes forget that our students aren’t the only ones who are watching and learning from what we are doing as leaders. Our teachers are also watching and learning.

They are learning what our expectations are for our school. They are learning how we want everyday business to be conducted, how we want interactions with parents to be handled, and how we want situations with students to be managed. And although this learning can be done through faculty and grade level meetings and through policy and procedures set forth in handbooks and memos, the majority of what our teachers learn about leadership is done through watching us as we lead.

The Golden Rule is still the Golden Rule (even when you’re a leader)

I used to start my teaching year off talking to my students about the Golden Rule. I let them know that I have tried to live my entire life by the adage of treating others the way I would want to be treated. I wanted to make sure that they understood this concept and worked to encourage them to practice it themselves.

Now that I am a leader, I still try to live and lead by this adage. And as a leader, I think it is even more imperative for me to keep this ideal at the forefront of my thoughts. It doesn’t always happen but I am lucky enough to have a current mentor that helps me remember by asking me questions like, “If you were the parent, how would you want this situation handled?” or “If you were the teacher, how would you want to be approached about this?”

Keeping those questions in mind when making decisions doesn’t negate the need to make some hard choices or to have some hard conversations, but it allows me to use tact and understanding so that I get my point across without shutting down a relationship.

Of course, I am not so naive as to think that I will be able to handle every single issue with grace. But by remembering the Golden Rule and treating others the way I want to be treated, I can ensure that the majority of my interactions will be viewed positively even when I have to have hard conversations.

Communication (or the lack thereof) makes a relationship

Anyone who has been, or currently is, in a long term relationship automatically knows that communication can make or break that relationship. If those involved in the relationship aren’t talking, then the partnership is not destined to survive for very long. A school team is nothing but a large partnership, and when communication breaks down, the school partnership also breaks down.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are communicating effectively. Communication is how we know what’s going on, how we tell others our expectations, and how others tell us their expectations of us.

When communication breaks down, the people that make up our team can become resentful and hurt. They may begin to see leadership as a liability instead of a support system, and trust erodes swiftly. And once trust is gone, it is extremely hard to get back.

As leaders, we have to make sure that communication is always flowing in our buildings because without good communication all our good intentions will be for nothing.

We’re not just the lead learners

As a fledgling leader, I by no means have all the answers. But as I walk further and further down this path, I have come to realize that as leaders we are not only the lead learners in our buildings but also the lead teachers. As such, we have to ensure that we treat everyone with the respect that we ourselves would want – even when it’s hard.

DeAnna Miller

DeAnna Miller (@DMiller0502) has been a middle school English teacher, instructional coach, and assistant principal during her 15-year career in education. She began her fifth year as an AP in the fall of 2022 and currently helps lead a K-6 public school in Enterprise, Alabama. DeAnna is an Army veteran married to a retired First Sergeant. They have three daughters, a son, and a new grandchild. She’s also a runner, avid reader and writer, and an “extreme Disney fanatic.”

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