Spending a lot of time in Ontario, I have been going through the Ontario Leadership Framework (this is updated from the last document) 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.
As pointed out to me by Donna Fry, the document I was using previously was an older version, so I am going to move ahead and use the newest framework. It is interesting to see the difference in language between the documents (for example, they use “school leaders” instead of “principal” on the latest version), and some of it feels like a step-back while some of it seems like a step forward.
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 to Support Desired Practices
- Improving the Instructional Program
- Securing Accountability
Today, I will be focusing on “Building Relationships and Developing People”. You will be able to see all posts eventually at this page.
Building Relationships and Developing People
Although someone pointed out to me that the framework is not set out in any particular order, I still think that the focus on relationships should be set out visually as the first priority in this framework. Strong relationships are the foundation of great organizations and without laying down that foundation first, nothing great will happen, and if it does, it is in spite of leadership, not because of it. I think great leaders go beyond simply caring for their community as part of a school, but they treat them like they would treat family. This standard in the document resonated:
“demonstrate respect, care and personal regard for students, staff and parents.”
The “personal”, says something much more to me and is key to growth as an organization.
The framework notes that “visibility” is a crucial part of leadership:
School leaders…are highly visible in their schools
Great leaders know that visibility matters. It is not that school leaders need to be at the school every day for it to run smoothly; if you have created a great culture, the school should be able to run without you being there 100% of the time. But it is not just about showing up and being present within your office. A truly flattened organization will see their school leaders as part of the team, not as above it, and that needs to be reflected in not only words, but actions.
For example, years ago as principal, I decided to remove all of the former principal pictures from the front entrance. What this said (to me anyways) that the most important person in the school was the principal, when I believed that our school was about kids, not adults. So what did we do? We removed all of the principal pictures and replaced them with students that were currently in the building. The entrance of our school signified that this is a place about kids.
People like Patrick Larkin shared practices of actually moving their office to their front entrance so that they were visible all of the time and you can see their learning. I have seen him in action, and little things like this totally created strong relationships with his community because he was more than simply the “Wizard behind the curtain”.
You can also see leaders such as Amber Teamann and Tony Sinanis who also see the importance of visibility simply being in face-to-face spaces, but in a virtual space as well. Amber regularly blogs and shares her thoughts with her school community, and I have loved seeing Tony share his video newsletters working with kids. For these three leaders, is it not only about being “visible” but also being “present”, and they show it in different ways.
Once we start to build relationships and show people that they are valued, it is important that we are open to having critical conversations. People are less likely to challenge and feel comfortable being challenged if they don’t feel valued. This is highlighted a couple of places in the document:
School leaders will…demonstrate respect for staff, students and parents by listening to their ideas, being open to those ideas, and genuinely considering their value.
School leaders will…establish norms in the school that demonstrate appreciation for constructive debate about best practices.
What is important in these statements is that leaders are not simply open to conversations, but create something based on those conversations. We have to be able to say more than, “I hear you”, but be able to show that based on those conversations, we have done something differently.
It is also imperative that we create a community where we constantly don’t talk about “changing others”; in those cultures, blame is shifted back and forth. You can hear in the same buildings, “people don’t want to change” and “leadership is holding us back”. The amount of time we spend pointing fingers, is time that we could be using to move forward. Conversations are important, but actions based on those conversations are essential.
Reflection and Modelling
Reflection is so crucial to move forward. Without looking back, we are unable to move forward. Modeling reflection is also imperative. This is highlighted in the framework
School leaders…encourage staff to reflect on what they are trying to achieve with students.
School leaders…demonstrate the importance of continuous learning through visible engagement in their own professional learning.
A word that I think is missing in the reflection piece is “open”. When we openly reflect (and there are several ways that this can be done), we not only develop ourselves, but we develop others as well. Technology allows us to do this in a myriad of ways like things such as podcasts, videos, blogs, and any other alternative that people can come up with. When teachers and leaders are willing to do this in an open forum, we create a visibility in our practice that promotes conversations not only within our school communities, but globally as well.
In my own practice, instead of sending a weekly memo to staff through email, it was simple enough to do the same thing and share it through a blog. I would often share things that were going on in school, but also articles that I thought were great discussion starters and example of theory in practice. Why would we hide this from our parents and community? The conversations that it facilitated not only in the blog, but in the hallways and staff room was paramount to growth of our organization.
All of these points are important to building a great culture, yet the document seemed to lack a real focus on developing great leadership. This is not just about developing “future principals”, but developing leadership within the building. Although it is cliche, great leaders develop great leaders, not more followers and a building should not be focused on having a sole leader. You could argue that it is implied throughout the document, but I think that organizations have to make it explicit that we want to develop our people as leaders in different areas. What is explicit is often what gets done.
Relationships are the most important thing in schools. It is not only our kids that need to feel safe, but our staff as well. Knowing that we have created an environment where people know they are valued, cared for, and that we focus on their continuous development, great things are more likely to happen.