Keep Your “Eyes” on the Prize – 8 Ways to Help You Stay Focused
This past month I wrote a blog post entitled, “Leadership…The Biggest Issue in Public Education?” in which I suggested that ineffective leadership, in my opinion, was the biggest obstacle keeping us from reaching the levels of success we all hope to achieve as leaders of any organization. The post resulted in several comments being left on my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, both publicly and privately which I genuinely appreciated. One business woman wrote to tell me how she had been recently scolded by her supervisor via email for not following the proper protocol in her presentation and how that had made her feel like a failure even though it had been well received by her peers. She added that she felt hurt and even somewhat devalued because the more she read the deeper the words dug in. She went on to share that her supervisor had not included a single positive comment in the two paragraph scolding that she had written to her. Her comment reminded me of a student who recently had shared with me that his teacher had automatically dropped his grade two letter grades on his speech assignment because he had gone over his allotted time by fifteen seconds even though the content of the speech once again, was well received. I must admit I immediately pondered the number of times we as educators and employees have gone over our allotted time when given the floor or the microphone to speak. I don’t ever recall anyone ever being penalized, reprimanded or docked pay for doing so. When the student described his experience to me, my first thought was one of sadness for not only this student, but for who knows how many other countless students over the years who had experienced a similar fate. And just last evening I heard from a former student of mine who interviewed for a position in his school as an internal candidate and was not selected. However, what he shared with me next left me speechless. He had asked his principal if she would be willing to meet with him and give him some feedback on his interview and what he could do to improve his chances in the future. According to my former student she declined and told him she did not feel comfortable having that conversation with him. My guess is she didn’t even realize how much damage she had done to her relationship with this teacher in that one single moment of refusal.
“We define ourselves by the best that is in us, not by the worst that has been done to us.” -Edward Lewis
These are some of the types of stories that others often share with me; sometimes out of frustration and bitterness, other times out of vulnerability and the hope that things will eventually be better. To be fair, I also hear many stories that warm my heart and make me proud to be an educator. If I am being completely honest, I would guess that there have been instances in which stories have been shared about me to others about how I had wronged someone in a decision I made. We don’t always get it right. But if we are able to recognize that we are always evolving in our roles as leaders, then we should strive to continue to evolve to not only be better, but do better.
Almost every school leader that I have met approaches each day with one goal in mind – to bring their best and give their best to others in order to ensure that every student and every staff member experiences success and feels valued. The same could be said for most teachers. Keeping our eyes on the prize in order to accomplish this can be challenging at times, especially when the stresses of the job cause us to lose our focus and stray away from the things we know that matter when it comes to leading others. As we approach the end of another school year, here are 8 reminders to help you get your “I’s” back on target and finish the year strong with your staff.
- Invest in your people every day. Engage them, spend time with them, listen to them, believe in them, encourage them, support them, trust them, and when they mess up, forgive them. Give them your most precious commodity, the gift of time.
- Influence their beliefs and their behaviors. Model what you expect, shape their thinking, develop their skill sets, speak the truth, and leverage their strengths. Invite them to lead others and more importantly, allow them to determine their own pathway in order to build their capacity.
- Inspire their work with kids. Ignite their passion, awaken their dreams, rekindle their hope, energize their spirit, and prompt them when needed. Give them permission to create and innovate without fear of judgement or negative evaluation.
- Invite their input. Ask them what they think, what they believe and more importantly, why they think and believe what they believe. This will allow you to really get to understand their core beliefs and what drives their behavior so you can support their work with integrity and without hesitation.
- Initiate the work that needs to be done. It begins with you. If you are feeling overwhelmed, pick one item or area and just begin. Invite others in. Get started today! When you start to feel like the work you do no longer matters, keep going and you will see that it does matter…to someone. You just may not recognize it at that moment.
- Improve the work environment. Redefine your expectations. Raise the standards. Upgrade the furniture. Update the carpet, lighting and paint. Boost morale by amending outdated procedures and reducing minimal tasks. Enhance the work space by bringing in student work to remind all of us why we do the work that we do. Exceed your own expectations by helping others exceed theirs.
- Inform your team by communicating effectively. Respond promptly when contacted. Keep your staff apprised of ongoing matters. Notify your superiors of potential conflicts. Advise others only when asked. Don’t tell others what they want to hear; tell them what you really believe in a kind and caring way. Don’t ignore or avoid obvious wrongdoings for fear of confrontation. Remember, the best form of communication is still face to face, for it gives us the opportunity to cultivate a stronger relationship.
- Impact others by bringing meaning to their work. Don’t ask others to do what you are not willing to do yourself. Define them by the significance of their work and their imprint on others, especially kids. Take time to show the magnitude of your appreciation both in writing and verbally of something that is personal to them and that demonstrates their effect on others. Everyone wants to be memorable. Do your part to leave that lasting impression.
The job of a school leader was never meant to be a committee of one. Unfortunately, though, it can often feel that way. When it comes to leading any organization, let us not forget that our responsibility is to model to others every day that we too are learners in this journey and that we need others to support us by reminding us when we slip so that we don’t leave others feeling devalued. After all, we know those who feel valued and appreciated will always do more than what is expected.
To all school leaders out there, thank you for all that you do to be the change our students and teachers deserve. You are not alone in your journey. We are here to support you….always.