Informing Today: Transforming Tomorrow – a powerful message posted just below the name of our university. How can each student at Benedictine University take steps to make this goal a reality? In a word – leadership!
When we think of leadership in the context of school settings, one might think first of principals or other school administration. True, but is leadership limited to the principal’s office? Certainly not! Charlotte Danielson, known best for her work in the field of teacher evaluation, has researched the notion that successful schools rely on strong teacher leaders. These teacher leaders refine their instructional practices and then transfer these efforts to colleagues across the school or district. Working in concert with school administration, Danielson states that leaders work to develop the ability to:
- Recognize opportunities and take initiative
- Mobilize colleagues around a common purpose
- Marshal resources and take action
- Monitor and adjust the initiative
- Sustain the commitments of others
- Contribute to the learning organization
In his book, Cultivating Leadership In Schools, Gordon Donaldson explores the impact of clearly stating the purpose of common goals, connecting that work to the people leading that charge, and then transferring energies toward the improvement of practices, leading to the desired goals for your school. Again, these efforts must take place in an aligned process with the school administration assisting and supporting the efforts of those most valued teacher leaders. No leader can do it alone – strong collaborative bonds are needed at each step of the process.
Leaders both in and outside the classroom must consider efforts that are both systematic as well as systemic. These two terms look the same at first glance, but take a moment to think about the difference - both essential for leaders planning to make an impact. Systematic refers to clearly defining and organizing the path – no misconceptions, everyone involved understands. Systemic really comes next in the process -where those involved understand how each person fits into the process. This commitment influences the ultimate success in meeting those stated goals. Recall all the times you have been asked to join an initiative without understanding your role in the process, or what the outcome might be if successful. In real estate, the key is location, location, location. In leadership, communication can’t be understated!
As you reflect on your role as an emerging leader, think about the work of Craig R. Hickman. Several years ago, 20 in fact, this Harvard Business Grad wrote a book entitled Mind of a Manager, Soul of a Leader. Hickman describes a manager as someone who is basically practical, reasonable, and has no trouble making decisions. The manager is skilled at organizational tasks, following set guidelines, and getting to the “finish line”, as prescribed. Now contrast this skill set to that of a leader. The leader he defines is visionary, empathetic as well as flexible. Additionally, this person is truly a divergent thinker, knowing complex problems have complex solutions. He is very careful not to label either the manager or the leader of having a higher value. Instead, Hickman suggests that an ideal organization consists of an environment where both styles work together harmoniously. Take a moment to think about most of the “bosses” you have had and it is likely you can categorize them as primarily a manager or leader. Which will you be? How will you strike the right balance?
Benedictine offers programs that inspire university students to become leaders in their own right, as they extend their learning within the field of education. By informing students today, the transformation of our schools tomorrow seems to come into view!
About the Author
Susan Miller is currently an Adjunct Professor for Benedictine University, within the College of Education. Susan has served as a director of teaching and learning, principal, coordinator of gifted programs, as well as teaching a variety of grades, including special education. She is a graduate of the National Staff Development Council Academy XIV, and deeply values the need for quality ongoing professional learning.