Recently my leadership coach presented me with a challenge: write about what you have learned in your years of experience as a school leader that you bring to the new position you have begun this year. The task sparked my imagination as I remembered the young educator I was thirteen years ago when I began my first principalship and sixteen years ago when I began my first school administrative position. What is it I believed then, I wondered, and what is it I believe now?
Once I believed initiatives and programs would transform. Now I believe it is through helping each person (students, teachers, administrators, staff, and volunteers) to be her or his best that our schools will be transformed.
Once I believed that setting the bar high would be sufficient. Now I believe that balancing ambitious expectations and robust supports for ourselves and others is necessary to make the progress we seek.
Once I believed timetables on progress could be imposed. Now I believe learning is not linear and sometimes detours on the path to improvement for students and teachers alike bring unanticipated gifts.
Once I believed we would thrive through learning from our mistakes. Now I believe that while mistakes inform, we will thrive when we can wholeheartedly learn from, celebrate, and build upon our successes.
Once I believed challenges were to be feared and overcome. Now I believe challenges are to be anticipated and embraced as a means of improving the quality of learning and community in our schools.
Once I believed success was the result of completing items on our “to do” lists. Now I believe success emerges from living up to the ideals of our “to be” lists; our core values, our positive energy, and our demonstrable delight in being present with our students and our teachers.
Once I believed my advanced degrees and years of training made me an expert. Now I believe expertise is found collaboratively and wisdom emerges through openness to ongoing learning and exploration.
Once I believed I could rely on my own knowledge base. Now I believe I must be wary of my “blind spots” and actively encourage honest feedback from many in order to gain insight on what I do not even know to ask.
Once I believed formal evaluations could be of true benefit to teachers. Now I believe that respectful, ongoing informal and nonjudgmental feedback from a multitude of sources on a combination of school-wide and individual professional goals is necessary for meaningful professional learning and growth.
Once I believed “telling” people our visions would inspire. Now I believe we must collaboratively craft visions and pace forward movement, celebrating even the small steps along the way.
Once I believed in communication to all constituents. Now I believe in conversation with all members of our community.
Once I believed that budgets and schedules were necessary. Now I believe that budgets are educational plans in numbers and schedules are educational plans in time; vital tools of learning leaders.
Once I believed it necessary to listen to the content and ignore the emotion in people’s words. Now I believe it is vital to listen to both content and emotion; choosing sensitively when to respond to the content of people’s words, when to respond to the emotion, and when to respond to both.
Once I believed we all needed to comply with the requirements of our supervisors and cooperate with the priorities of our peers. Now I believe we must all collaborate to achieve a shared mission and vision.
Once I believed that trust was assumed with our hard work and good intentions. Now I believe that trust, difficult to earn and easy to damage, stems from sincere appreciation for the capability and talents of others.
Once, when given the task to write about what I have learned in my years as a school leader, I would have composed a long essay ripe with academic citations. Now, given an optional assignment from my leadership coach to consider what I have learned in my years as a school leader, I have chosen to reflect on the essence of paradigm shifts on learning leadership I have experienced. Once I would have “handed in” the assignment requested. Now, I “publish” and share with my professional learning network, seeking insight, feedback, and ongoing learning.
What might you add? How have your leadership paradigms shifted throughout the years? What did you once believe and what do you now believe?