At Forest Green School, we believe building relationships is fundamental to student success. Education is a powerful profession and has the capability to change definitions.
Evolution of Success
When I was a student, the term “success” meant that a student would graduate high school, go on to university, and have a good career in an academic field. Education has helped to change success to go further than “the best” to “the best for us”. We all know now that people do not need to go onto college be successful, but if they follow their passions and are happy, that is the ultimate success. Many schools now believe (although branches of government have not come around to realize this) that leading students to find what they love, and helping them to pursue that, is how we can help students become successful.
Many students that I have had the joy of working with have gone on to work in fields that did not need a post secondary degree. They are ultimately happier than other people who spent years in university, make excess amounts of money, but are miserable in their careers, which sometimes leads to misery in their personal lives. I challenge you to say that the university student in that situation is the one that has achieved the greatest success.
Transformation of leadership
I have shared with staff my belief in distributed leadership and how that as a collective, we can achieve more than one person alone. I want to continuously give staff the opportunity to have input on directions and decisions of the school, and am always able to go to other staff when I need help in areas that are not my strength. I believe that one of the most powerful statements a formal leader can say to someone they work with is the term, “I don’t know”. Saying that phrase alone is not powerful, but being able to lead someone to a person with further knowledge than myself on a topic is what a great leader will do.
As I started at a new school this year and shared my beliefs on distributed leadership, I wanted to ensure the culture of the school reflected that. Coming in with a new set of eyes to the building, I noticed little subtleties that did not reflect the belief I was trying to share. One thing that really stood out to me was the traditional principal portrait that was hanging in the front entrance of the school. To me, this was a little detail, but still a detail that did not reflect the belief I was trying to foster in the school. As I shared with staff that I believed they all needed to be leaders, the picture of myself would be shown in the front foyer. I am happy to say that my picture never made it up. Our school is about kids, not the principal, so although I value all of the work that the principals did before me to build a great school culture, I replaced their pictures with candid shots of students. Not only did the school community appreciate seeing their children displayed as you walked into the school, it showed my belief that no one person is bigger than the school. I challenge every administrator to look around the schools they work. Do the “little things” reflect what you believe is the shared vision of the school? If not, it is time to make some changes.
Transferring leadership to students
Distributed leadership is not something that is unique to my building, but it is something that is more prevalent in all facets of society. Leadership is more about how we work and lead as a collective, as opposed to following the vision of one. If these skills are relevant to the workplace, what are we doing as a school to advance this? Schools should ensure that they are preparing students with skills so they can flourish long after they leave. Building leadership skills in all students is something that we need to be doing as educators.
Being influenced by the book, “The Leader in Me”, I started to realize that this is something that is apparent at our school, without it ever being truly focused upon. Students lead our assemblies, help to supervise and ensure the safety of others, while also having input in their own learning. These are just a few things that I have seen our students do. The key to this is that the staff has helped to nurture and grow this. Now as a focus of our school, we try to give as many opportunities to students to become leaders and help in the direction of our school. Not all students are going to be in positions of “traditional” leadership (principals, CEO’s, managers, etc.), but we want to ensure that they can become leaders in whatever they do.
If you believe that this is something that is not achievable by all students, or even your students who you know better, you may need to recheck your belief system. If we limit our students, they sometimes achieve success in spite of us instead of because of us. What do you do as an educator to help your students become leaders? What opportunities do you give students to lead in your school? I have students in my school raise funds for Haiti, organize assemblies, help others that are in trouble, and create a healthy concession for others. These were ALL student initiated. Seeing these acts by students only solidifies my belief in leadership is something that is in all of us.
It is my belief that my job is ultimately easier because I have so many people that I can count on to take on different roles of leadership in my school. This includes students. If all of us work together as a school community where we all have the opportunity to share our strengths and become leaders, the limits of what was can do are endless. In fact, together we can definitely change the traditional definition in society on what a true leader should be.