Being a member of “Central Office” staff now, I find that I am sometimes invited to meetings simply because of the position I hold. One of the meetings I recently attended was a School Based Leadership Team meeting at a school that I understood to be struggling for many reasons. My presence was requested to support the work of the school in the revision of their Title I plan; to justify to a politically-charged audience “allowability” of decisions the school team was suggesting.
However, my role as a support to the school was secondary to the lessons in leadership I found to be reinforced as I observed this meeting:
- Vision: During this meeting there were several members of senior district leadership present. BUT, there was no principal. The meeting was led by one of the school’s assistant principals. She viewed the meeting as a means to an end; making certain the TItle I Plan was completed. There was no real “leader” to help stakeholders present truly understand the vision for the school in the coming year and how the goals and strategies presented truly connected to one another. Being able to not only clearly articulate a vision for the future, but to create buy-in with stakeholders is a leadership must.
- Processes and Structures: Although rudimentary, having foundational pieces for effective meetings is essential. With no agenda, no “parking lot”, and no structure for discussion, much less decision-making, this meeting was ill-timed and had participants frustrated with a lack of tangible outcomes, as well as the need for a follow-up meeting to continue the work. Remembering that when there is a clear desired outcome, sharing that with participants in advance and utilizing a structure to support the achievement of that outcome will help support successful meetings.
- Data: In today’s high-stakes, testing-based society, participating in a meeting where goals and strategies were not directly linked to student performance data is unfathomable, especially when external participants are knowledgeable of and understand how data inform decision-making. Making certain that stakeholders understand how suggested goals and strategies will support student achievement is paramount.
- Professionalism and Dedication: Part of the importance of a School Based Leadership Team is to ensure that all members of the educational community are represented in the school’s decision making process. I was saddened to be an observer watching school representatives arrive late or leave early from the meeting, speak disrespectfully to each other and parents, and behave in an ill-mannered fashion (rolling eyes, walking away from a discussion, chewing with an open-mouth so all could hear, etc) throughout the meeting. In fact, there were more non-school based constituents at the meeting than there were school staff. Modeling professionalism and dedication to the external public is important when working to inspire trust in the school, and its staff, and the work it will do for their children.
- Confidence: As I stated previously, the SBLT meeting was led by one of the school’s assistant principals. The lack of confidence in herself as a leader was obvious as demonstrated by her unorganized presentation, failure to disagree respectfully, and lack of meeting facilitation skills. Being certain to present a sense of confidence in yourself as a leader, and primary caregiver for the students within that school, no matter the situation, must be present for trusting relationships to emerge.
Since I attended this meeting, the school has been assigned a new principal. The new leader is a confident, no-holds barred decision maker when it comes to helping students achieve at high levels. The examples of effective leadership exemplified as non-examples in 2013 I feel sure will be commonplace in 2014.
From the outside looking in, watching her lead to transform this toxic culture of low expectations for students and staff into a high-achieving school where all students, staff, and parents are valued members of the educational community will be a highlight of the year to come.