Thursday, December 02, 2004

Another diary entry...
Leadership… the ship… the captain… the journey…

Any successful journey requires a well-built ship and a skilled captain at the helm. An educational journey is no different than a voyage sailed on the high seas.

An ocean crossing requires a ship worthy of the voyage, sound, safe, and comfortable, equipped with the necessary supplies and tools to keep the crew well for the trip.

The vessel for education is the building, the actual physical locale in which we educate students. While in theory, the building cannot make education successful, nor keep it from being so, the physical realm sets the tone for the students. When school buildings feel warm and welcoming, kid-friendly and clean, bright and colorful, upon entering students immediately feel they are important. Contrast this with a sterile, old, smelly, dirty building where little effort is put forth to make the building inviting, those same students know, in a deep almost primal way, they are not what is important here.

The building, the school, the vessel, must also be equipped to make the journey here a safe one. The supplies are simple really – paper, pencil, computers, art supplies, text books, manipulatives… the tools and supplies to keep the crew well for the trip.

A ship, even a well-built ship, stocked with all necessities, set to sail the ocean without a competent captain, will likely have problems completing their journey without incidence. A school without a capable leader will encounter similar problems.

However, defining proficiency in a school administrator is much more complex a task than having a ship’s captain prove his skill.

Exactly what makes an administrator a good leader? For that matter, what makes any leader a good one? Webster’s defines leader as a guiding head. Guide is defined as point out way for, or direct the course of. By that logic, a leader would be the guiding force who directs the way of those under his leadership.

Thinking of Webster’s definition, a school administrator should be the guiding force in the school. He should be the very core of what the school is all about. The administrator should have the ability to lead his staff through good times, helping them appreciate their successes, finding ways to celebrate. And also, perhaps even more importantly, this leader, this administrator must have the capacity to rally his troops in times of adversity.

I have worked for a few different administrators. Some were great leaders. Other were leaders. Still others sat behind the desk with the nameplate proclaiming their “leader role”.

As I think back through what are the defining traits among these individuals I was destined to serve under, most assuredly, I don’t think of the ones I did not admire. Rather in my mind, those strong truly great leaders are the ones I focus on.

True leaders seek and grasp those they feel “fit” their vision. A wise man told me once: it is not always about hiring the person with the best qualifications but rather the “right person” for the job. Truly great leaders have this ability to see their own vision, and see those who fill their needs. They can help those in their flock reach and fulfill their own personal potentials. They surround themselves with positive people who work together towards the common goal, who all have the same map, for the same journey.

True leaders, truly great leaders, true captains of ships, are not intimidated by their crew members who are innovative and find solutions they themselves overlooked. They smile, and say, “Gosh… wish I’d thought of that!” and congratulate the discoverer.

My own experiences parallel these qualities of great leaders. I was hired by a superintendent and principal who overlooked the fact I was not the most experienced person applying for the job, overlooked the fact I was nervous and insecure at my interview, and saw the fit I was with their school. They hired me, and helped me grow, encouraged me in my pursuits, gently guiding, giving constructive criticism and positive reinforcement along the way. They had the courage to give me a chance.

My principal now, another individual, is also what I think of when I think true leader. No matter what harebrained idea I come up with, he is willing to listen, support me in my efforts, and offer guidance when my ship is headed for the rocky shoreline. I feel appreciated for my efforts, acknowledged for my accomplishments, and sustained in my day to day needs for making my job go easily and successfully.

A leader is one who leads by example, one who makes those following his path feel secure, confident, competent, and ready to tackle the journey’s path, wherever it may lead.

A ship…a school…
A captain… a principal…
A voyage across the sea… a child’s education…a teacher’s career…
A great captain… a great leader…
A successful journey…

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