After a year that challenged educators, parents, and children to rethink academic norms and adapt to unprecedented change, reflecting on our education system’s collective successes and failures reveals that the most prosperous districts were those managed by the strongest leaders. Being a leader in education took on a genuinely monumental expectation last year as superintendents, principals, and their school boards were faced with decisions that weighed the safety of students and staff against traditional academic modalities and virtual learning efficacy.
If you are reading this today, you have weathered the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic and are still focused on growing and improving in ways that will enable you to keep serving your districts and their stakeholders as effectively and impactfully as possible. As you reflect on the past year; your triumphs and missteps, here we provide our observations on what it means to be a leader in education. What follows are four characteristics of the most successful leaders in all industries—especially education.
The Most Successful Leaders Continually Seek Educational Opportunities
Leaders are never stagnant. They see the value in learning about trends, new technologies, and new approaches to achieving successful outcomes in their sphere of influence. Whether you have been in your position for a year or a decade, you should commit to continual education and self-advancement. Look for different learning opportunities, including regional and/or virtual conferences that unite the brightest minds for collaboration and shared learning.
Collaborate with peers in neighboring districts to ask where they have found success and what new strategies they are leveraging to achieve goals. If phone calls and emails are too time-consuming, consider joining a Facebook or LinkedIn group for leaders in education as a source of collaboration.
Subscribe to blogs, newsletters, and webinar series from trusted names and brands in education and devote the first 30-minutes of your workday, every day, to reading insights and advice for school leaders. With a commitment to ongoing study, you will gain confidence in your role, be able to suggest new strategies to help your district achieve its goals, and be a wiser mentor and leader for your principals, teachers, and staff.
The Most Successful Leaders Surround Themselves with Bright, Like-Minded Peers
Henry David Thoreau had Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vincent van Gogh had Paul Gauguin, and LeBron James has Dwayne Wade. Throughout history, brilliance has attracted like-minded talent. Take a cue from some of history’s most successful pairs and surround yourself with successful peers and leaders in education with whom you can ideate innovative strategies and discuss solutions to common challenges.
If you do not already have a mentor, commit to finding one this year. If you are relatively new to your role, you may want to seek a mentor who has many years of experience as a superintendent. However, mentor relationships do not have to be based on age or tenure. Some of the most successful relationships take the form of reverse mentoring, with more established professionals learning new skills—particularly in technology—from younger colleagues and offering them sage career advice in return.
To find a cooperative mentor relationship, turn to your network of peers in districts around your state, or reflect on colleagues with whom you networked at workshops and conferences. If someone comes to mind whom you admire for their innovation, resilience, trustworthiness, or estimable reputation, ask them to be your mentor.
When you contact your peer to ask for their support, set fair expectations for your hopeful time commitment, and work together to come up with the best possible mentoring relationship that works for both of you. If you request your peer to meet once a quarter for coffee and conversation—in person or virtually—they will most likely be easily able to support you and will happily reply with their acceptance of your proposed collaborative partnership.
The Most Successful Leaders Think Outside the Box
“That’s the way we have always done it,” are words that you will never hear said by the most successful leaders. Throughout history, the figures who achieve success and overcome adversity for impactful change and societal betterment are those who change paradigms, introduce positive changes to their spheres of influence, and create new ways of achieving their goals. Educational leaders should take the same groundbreaking approach to advance their school’s goals.
If you feel hindered by not knowing what new approach to bring to your district to enact positive change, turn to your network, your mentor, faculty and staff, and your stakeholders. Insightful ideas can come from anywhere, but a valuable leader will recognize a revolutionary vision and take the steps necessary to act on it.
Take a few minutes to reflect on the challenges you face in your district today and how they can be approached in a new way for a different outcome. For example, perhaps your schools struggle with parental engagement. If the only tactic you use to communicate with parents is email, consider different methods of outreach. Perhaps social media, surveys, or public meeting style collaboration sessions could foster better collaboration with parents. Using Facebook may feel like an unfamiliar strategy, but taking a step outside the confines of what is familiar might be just the action needed to achieve your goals.
The Most Successful Leaders Continually Self-Reflect
Self-reflection is a critical characteristic of successful educational leaders. You want to question what you think you know and push beyond your comfort zone to grow and improve so that your students and staff can do the same. Keep learning, keep pushing, and keep collaborating. The final most successful trait of a genuine leader is that they want to lead. With such a desire as your foundation, you will undoubtedly find ways to succeed in your role.