It’s mid-way through July, and you know what that means….!!!
It means I can’t stop reading education news! Every year at about this time, I get the itch to be back at work. This is precisely the reason why every year, I tend to take a ton of summer classes to fill my time–if I’m not learning, I might as well be napping 🙂 Given that I’m currently in the time between submitting my dissertation proposal and defending it in mid-August, I have NO classes (for once), and am self-enforcing some time off. But in that time off, I often find myself in the education or leadership sections of the local library; reading, reading, reading.
This is a comfortable lull, nonetheless, as in just a couple weeks, I begin my new position as Director of Curriculum in Buckeye Local Schools (Medina). Also in just a couple weeks (fingers crossed), I begin collecting data on my dissertation, which poses something like this…
I’ve been thinking so much about leadership recently, and what it means to lead in a time of accountability. What I’m posing in this work is a way to be above being an “administrator” and to become something else that transcends simply “administrating.” It’s the same line of thinking I’ve always advocated for teachers–being above simply “teaching to the test” to actually lead students. The difference here is that teachers, in teacher preparation programs, typically undergo learning experiences about how to be reflective practitioners–reflection (and, in some cases, critical reflection) are somewhere embedded as part of becoming a teacher. But learning to become an administrator is something different.
You know, when I took my Praxis test to become an “Administrative Specialist” in “Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development,” I actually had to take the principal Praxis because there was nothing specifically geared toward curriculum matters. I answered questions about how to pattern walkways within a building when a certain part of the building is under construction and how to equitably cut funds across multiple departments when creating a building budget, but I answered nothing about leadership or curriculum. The questions on that test (much like the ISLLC standards themselves–the professional standards for administrators and the basis for most Ed Admin college programs) focus on the “administrating” part of becoming a school leader, but not so much on leadership.
I think this leaves a huge void for administrators, and I believe they are left to navigate this weird “not teacher” terrain without much help. There are over a thousand various definitions for leadership (see R. Volckmann), but none of those definitions has been widely accepted or thoroughly studied. So what models exist for administrators to learn how to lead? From what theoretical basis can an administrator figure out how to make sense of leading within the context of political accountability?
Even more personally…how do I, as a curriculum leader, accept the systemic pressures of consequential accountability while building a districtwide culture that values teachers’ professional wisdom? How do I navigate between “administrating” and “leading”–two very different sides of the same coin.
These are the questions and thoughts I have as I start preparing myself for a new setting, new people, and new leadership role. My gut (and personal / professional experiences) tell me the first step to leading and beginning anew is to start with building relationships. I don’t think there is anything more important for a new administrator or teacher to do than beginning to build relationships. If you want to be a leader, you have to know the people who are your “followers”–let me clarify this, because one cannot assume that simply because she has a title, she has the “street cred” of those with whom she works. No…followership isn’t guaranteed. Having a title or different contract does not a “leader” make. It is only through the creation of relationships with colleagues and establishing oneself as a knowledge wealth (or endless vat, if you prefer) of credible information that leadership begins. People follow when they believe it is beneficial to them in some way to do so–so to new admins and teachers, keep that in mind as you think about how to start the year.
So, for me, my first goal as a new leader in a new environment is to meet people. To talk to them; get to know building and district needs; figure out who the leaders within the buildings/districts already are; and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, identify people who are smarter than myself and begin learning from them. Being able to do that work gets me reinvigorated about being an administrator in challenging times because this work I do, all this curriculum stuff and my stance on advocacy, it’s not about me–it’s about people and learning how to raise the collective.