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Top 5 Things Teachers Want an Educational Leader to Be (and not to be!)

This time of year, schools across the country are beginning a new school year. Principals are holding in-service and professional development meetings, with new and veteran teachers, and seeking to build a team that will ensure that the mission of academic achievement is successfully carried out. What are the qualities that a principal needs to have to optimize his or her leadership potential? Studies have shown that the success of the teacher, and ultimately the students, is directly dependent on the type of leadership provided by the principal or school leader.

Great leaders are:

1. Collaborative – Not Isolating

A principal or leader who collaborates with his or her teachers fosters a spirit of teamwork. Teachers feel that they can participate in the decision making, therefore feeling more invested in the educational process in the school building. Making decisions in isolation, conversely, causes teachers to feel very disenfranchised about the decision-making process. Decision-making that affects teachers, but does not consider their needs or opinions, creates an environment detrimental to the spirit of collaboration. While every decision cannot be made in a collaborative manner, consulting teachers, and allowing them a voice in the process, empowers them and builds a team approach.

2. Mentoring and Supportive - Not Hindering

A good leader mentors teachers, both veteran and new, in a manner that is positive and supportive, and never hindering or demeaning. Principals must be committed to mentoring teachers in an ongoing way, accept the difficulties of the new teacher, and provide support for all teachers in a way that shows respect for the individual. Whether providing instructional support, disciplinary assistance or intervention with a difficult parent, if the support is not provided, or is not consistent, the principal can hinder the teacher’s growth and morale. Whether veteran or new, all teachers need mentoring and want the support of their leader. Good leaders recognize and provide this, even if a teacher needs redirection for a poor decision.

3. Knowledgeable and Relevant – Not Entrenched

In order to effectively provide mentoring, the leader must be knowledgeable in the practice, by continuing their own learning and having relevant information to share. Becoming too entrenched in one manner or method leads to stagnancy in a school. The principal, as a lifelong learner, is a role model for the continual learning that a teacher needs, in order to be his or her best. Relevant professional knowledge, shared in a positive and supportive manner, fosters growth for the teachers and ultimately the students.

4. Organized – But Not a Micro-manager

The leader needs to have an organized approach and manner in order to effectively carry out the mission of the school or organization. However, micro-managers who seek to personally organize every detail, can be a roadblock to growth in the school. Having an organized plan and focus, and empowering others by appropriately delegating authority, helps foster team building and ownership in the organization.

5. Communicative – Not Withdrawn

Communicate, communicate, communicate! Communication is one of the most important skills for a leader. We’ve all seen political leaders who have poor communication skills; the results can be disastrous. Whether giving no information, or wrong information, poor communication can sabotage the organization. A leader must have good communication skills and keep students, parents and teachers apprised of information that is relevant to their role. Communication with teachers engenders trust and builds relationships. But communication is not just one way; principals must be good listeners, and provide empathy and support when needed. Empathetic, supportive communication builds trust and relationships beneficial to teamwork in a school.

A study that was released this past week gave a profile on teachers in the US, and average years of experience and salary. We know that teachers don’t choose the profession because of the salary. They choose the field, and choose to remain in the field, because of their love of teaching. Research that I conducted, on school culture that leads to teacher job satisfaction and retention, included interviews with local teachers. The leadership traits, identified above, were highly valued by the teachers interviewed, and frequently stated, even though leadership was not the main focus of the research. The teachers in schools with leaders who evidenced these traits were highly satisfied with their school and role.

As a principal, one of the best compliments I ever received from a teacher, came a little over a year ago from an excellent veteran teacher in my building. She said that I had helped her learn classroom management, disciplinary techniques, how to deal with confrontation and embrace change even when she didn’t want it, by commending or counseling, but always making her feel respected. Although we all make mistakes at times, knowing we can make an impact on a great teacher is both rewarding and humbling. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t, but how we approach it, defines us as leaders.

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