Spending a lot of time in Ontario, I have been going through the Ontario Leadership Framework with a fine tooth comb (here is a cleaned up Google Document that I have been using to go over each leadership strand) and although there are some areas I would change (“building relationship and developing people” should have been the first leadership strand in my opinion, as everything starts with relationships and knowing your people), the overall document is really strong.
Most “frameworks” have some pretty generic standards could be met as a principal 30 years ago when things were different in terms of what we knew about learning and the access that we had to one another. This document though, has statements that really stick out to me because it has some points that ensure a high quality leader in our world today. You can not simply do the same thing that was done in 1985 and expect to be effective as a leader today.
To learn more about this framework, I wanted to really go through each “leadership strand”, pick out a few key points that really stuck out to me as “forward thinking”, and break it down deeper. If we are going to be effective moving forward, we need to be reflective in our practice.
Over the next few blog posts, I will be going over each strand, and trying to take an in-depth look into some of the ideas that really stuck out to me. I really encourage others that are either interested in going into leadership (no matter what area you are located), or are currently in leadership positions, try the same process.
The five strands that I will be looking at are the following:
- Setting Directions
- Building Relationships and Developing People
- Developing the Organization
- Leading the Instructional Program
- Securing Accountability
Today I will be focusing on “Setting Directions”.
Here is the summary of the standard:
“The principal builds a shared vision, fosters the acceptance of group goals and sets and communicates high performance expectations.”
Building and communicating a vision is crucial to leadership and important in the success of a school. Communication is not simply through words, but also through actions taken in your work. For example, if you want to create a culture that “takes risks”, as a leader, you need to model taking risks. It is also important that any vision that is developed together with a staff has high expectations (as stated in the document), but it is important that those goals are broken down into smaller goals that are achievable to build confidence and competence towards getting toward a larger vision. People do not start by jumping from the bottom of the mountain to the top; they have to get to different summits along the way that they are able to see as reachable and attainable. Once you get to one summit, you become more confident in your ability to get to the next.
What I think is really important that in leadership today, that a vision is truly created together. There are many leaders that develop a vision with their staff, but really know what they want to happen the minute they walk into the building. If you go through the process of taking valuable time for people to help build a “collaborative vision”, it is important that the process is actually collaborative. If there are things that you would like to achieve in the school and they are “non-negotiables” in your mind, be transparent about this. All people may not like “top-down” initiatives, but personally, I hate “top down” initiatives where we pretend my input actually mattered in creating the direction. People see right through that process. Yet if you have initiatives that you see as vital, it is still important that you are open to suggestions and modifying plans based on feedback of the people you serve. This goes to the idea that the “smartest person in the room, is the room”, and if you aren’t open to feedback as a leader, you are not a leader, you are a boss.
Creativity and Innovation
It is great to see a document where “creativity and innovation” are considered an important part of what we do as leaders. It is outlined in this statement:
“ensures creativity, innovation and the use of appropriate technologies to achieve excellence”
My concern with this statement is that it is easy to read that “creativity and innovation” are synonymous with the word “technology”. It isn’t, although technology can be a huge and important part in the process. For example, it is important to realize that the iPhone isn’t the innovation, but the thinking that created it in the first place. This innovation and creation of ideas can come in many areas such as health literacy, assessment, and technology. Again, it is the thinking behind it that is important.
How technology does support these areas, is the openness to ideas and learning from others, that is accelerated through the use of technology. Being able to connect with others sparks ideas that may not have come to a person from scratch. Networks are crucial to innovation, and they can either spark the invention of a new idea, or the iteration of another. How are you using technology to foster these connections amongst your staff, and helping them building relationships both in and out of your school community? That, in my opinion, is where technology really fosters the innovation process.
Where does your vision come from?
One of my favourite parts of the first strand is having an understanding of what is happening in the world, and building a “vision” based on that understanding. This outlined in the following knowledge descriptor:
“The principal has knowledge and understanding of local, national and global trends.”
There is a word that is left out of this statement, and I appreciate that it is. Often in a sentence like this, the word “education” would appear somewhere, which I think is limiting. Educators need to look not only within education to develop and create a high quality programming, but look outside as well. For example, if you look outside of education, you can see many organizations moving away from a “factory model” or work, and now creating more flexible learning environments. This is not all organizations, but many of them, and we need to pay attention. Again, to get this access, we need to be connected.
Can we have leaders in our schools that have no idea what a “Ted Talk” is? Or know the big “researchers” in education but know nothing about any educators outside their own school? What do we lose as a school when we have leaders that have no idea what is going on outside of them? It is important that we start to understand the shifts not only in schools, but in the world, and from that learning, we bridge connections that are relevant to our community. Schools can not be in a perpetual state of ‘catch up”, but with a visionary leader, they should be ahead of the curve.
Leader as change agent
In the world, the only constant is change. That’s it. With that being said, visionary leaders understand that part of their job is to help people embrace change as outlined in the leadership framework:
“…leading change, creativity and innovation.”
The thing that we have to alway realize that when we are leading change, is that sharing “data” is not enough. People have to experience something and create an emotional connection if you are truly going to embrace sustainable change. Saying, “you need to change because of these results” is not enough and often takes away the autonomy of teachers on the ground. Numbers tell a part of the story, but only a small part. To change the story, it is essential that people become part of the story. It is not enough to minimize kids as numbers and think that the people focused endeavour of education can simply related to numerical data. To embrace change we need to create something more. Innovation and education is and always will be a human endeavour.
People do not follow a leader that has no vision of where they are going. “Setting direction” is imperative to our journey but there is no singular line that will get you to a point. We have to be understanding that different people take different pathways to get to that vision, and we have to be comfortable with that. The other key takeaway from this framework is the focus on helping move people from their point “A” to their point “B”. We need to differentiate learning for adults as we do for our students, and when we value the people that we serve, they will move a lot faster, than if they do not feel valued at all. Any organizational vision can only happen when people can come together and make that vision a reality. Otherwise, it is only a flashy “vision statement” that is only words with no actions.