This is part three in a series of looking deeper into the Ontario Leadership Framework. Please feel free to look at the previous posts on this page on “Setting Directions” and “Building Relationships and Developing People“.
Developing the Organization to Support Desired Practices
Under this strand, three major themes seem to emerge. Leadership development, communication with stakeholders, and management of resources. The interesting part of this strand is the term “desired practices”. Who is determining what is “desired” for any school or organization? Often the school “tail” wags with the principal and this can be either a good or bad thing, depending upon their vision. If they believe in something, they will move heaven and earth to make it happen, yet sometimes the practices they believe in could be outdated and not serving a student’s future, but more likely our past. This is why it is imperative that school leaders look at the work of other schools and both local and global trends. The notion of “management” comes under the following standards”
“School leaders…manage efficient budgetary processes…distribute resources in ways that are closely aligned with the school’s improvement priorities.”
Leaders should never make decisions solely upon their own knowledge; that is too limiting for the number of people they serve. They need to tap into a collective knowledge of their school community as well as others and it is imperative that we create a culture that taps into the expertise of our whole community.
Chosen or unleashed talents?
Great leaders develop great leaders. This is a given and within any school, it is important to develop a culture that relies on the expertise of many as opposed to a few. Distributed leadership is highlighted in this document:
“School leaders…distribute leadership on selected tasks.”
One of the pieces that I feel is missing is that it doesn’t focus on building upon the strengths that already exist within the building. A great leader doesn’t simply develop talent, but they help unleash it. This may be outlined in the following strand:
“School leaders….provide staff with leadership opportunities and support them as they take on these opportunities.”
As we look more at these ideas, I think we need to encourage our staff to go beyond leading within our own schools or organizations, but outside them as well. For example, when many leaders look at the ideas of “leadership opportunities” this might be going to conferences and participating in sessions, yet many organizations limit their own staff from presenting at these same conferences without a ton of red tape in the way. Not only does this show that you value your own staff’s expertise be shared with others to help further learning of all schools, it is a great way to promote your own organization through these opportunities.
When I have seen staff have these opportunities to present and share their learning with others, it does not only benefit their own careers, but they often come back learning more from the process. To sit in a session may bring back some knowledge, but to have to present or lead a session brings a whole level of expertise. The best leaders promote these opportunities.
What is “expertise” and who has it?
One of the standards under this strand focuses on the notion of tapping into “expertise”:
“School leaders…develop and maintain connections with other expert school and district leaders, policy experts, outreach groups, organizations and members of the educational research community.”
I have struggled with the word “expertise” for the last little while because of who this word is associated with. We often refer to speakers at conferences or researchers as the “experts” which often devalues the “expertise” we have in our own buildings. For example, whom are you more likely to consider an “expert”? A researcher that looks at the practice of teaching kindergarten or a teacher that you connected with on the #kinderchat hashtag that teaches kindergarten? In my opinion, both can be experts in different ways and we have to treat them as such. How great would a school be if we dropped the notion of “you can’t be a prophet in your own land”? Would we do more together if we looked at each other in our schools of having expertise?
In the past as a school principal, we defined our priorities as a school, and then had our teachers separate into groups based on their strengths, to lead these initiatives. Not only did they create and deliver professional learning opportunities for the school, they wrote the objectives as well. We did not have to wait for the “experts” to come into the building because we focused on making sure that we created a culture where we saw our own teachers as the experts. You could walk across the hall and get help, not wait for an outsider to show up. There is definite value in learning from people outside of your school, but if we are truly looking at a model of “distributed leadership”, it is essential we develop a culture of expertise within our own buildings.
Parent engagement or parent empowerment?
As it should be, tapping into our parent community is expected under the framework:
“School leaders…create a school environment in which parents are welcomed, respected and valued as partners in their children’s learning.”
A welcoming environment is essential if we are really going to tap into our parents. The best school leaders I have seen go out of their way to initiate connections with parents through simple things such as doing morning supervision, or even doing house visits to learn more about families. A person is more likely to feel valued if you talk to them when you don’t need to. Going out of your way to connect with the parent community is hugely important.
We often talk about how do we increase “parent engagement” in our schools, yet I think we are often focusing on the wrong term. What if we focused on “parent empowerment”? If they are a crucial factor in the success of our schools, is engagement enough? I have seen great school leaders bring parents in not to just tell them about initiatives, but to actively immerse them into the type of experiences that their children are having in schools to give them a better understanding of what school looks like now. This “education” for parents empowers them at home and in schools.
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking at a parent-led and planned conference with Halton District School Board. The parents of the planning committee organized the whole event to support important (to them) learning initiatives in the board. It was heavily attended and was a powerful way to see parents empowered to support success for all students, not only their own children. I hope to see more opportunities for parents that follow this lead.
Leadership without management often creates a vision that never comes to fruition, and vice-versa. But we have to remember that management is for “things” and leadership is for “people”. Personally, I don’t like to feel “managed” and I am sure I am in the majority. To really push our schools forward, expertise and empowerment has to be developed at all levels (including students) and “management” comes in to ensure that people have the resources needed to be successful. Creating a vision is one thing, but making that vision a reality, school leaders will need to utilize all resources (including people) to their fullest potential.