If you are like many school district leaders, you have earned your position through years of experience, most likely starting your tenure in education as a teacher, making your way to administration, and eventually to a school district superintendent. Valuable lessons in leadership are learned through this process of work experience; however, to be a truly versatile and reliable director, you need more than time spent working in various roles and positions. One strategy for improving your leadership abilities, even without formalized training and skill development, is by incorporating self-reflection into your annual leadership evaluation process. This will challenge you to think critically about your strengths and areas of improvement. It may seem intimidating to ideate around your perceived weaknesses. However, reflecting on every opportunity for growth will help you continue to evolve into the type of leader that your faculty and staff need to create an inclusive culture and improve academic outcomes. This article provides an actionable framework to help you participate in powerful self-reflection exercises and maximize the effectiveness of this methodology.
What is Self-Reflection?
Self-reflection in leadership development is a process in which one carefully reviews their past performance with the intent of identifying successes, lessons learned, milestones achieved, and opportunities for improvement. With pressure on schools to keep pace with benchmarks, engage parents, focus on student safety, close the digital divide, and so many other initiatives; unless leaders make time for self-reflection, it can be easy to look ahead continually without adequately processing past events. Self-reflection is akin to testing a student’s aptitude at the end of the school year. It creates a time and space for the student to pause and reflect on everything they have done during the school year and synthesize those experiences into new, vital knowledge.
What Factors Should You Include in Your Leadership Self-Reflection?
In a self-reflection exercise, you should aim to examine your:
- Skillset. Ask yourself where you excel and in what areas you wish you felt more confident. Your areas of focus could be anything from public speaking, meeting organization, to developing proficiency in using specific school wide software systems.
- Strengths. Self-reflection is not only about identifying areas of improvement. Give yourself the grace to acknowledge what makes you a strong leader, whether it be your interpersonal skills, your vision, or your compassion for your students.
- Weaknesses. Identifying weaknesses may be the most emotionally challenging part of the self-reflection process, but it is crucial for self-improvement. Some of your weaknesses might align with your skill set development needs. Others might be very personal and extend even beyond your role as a school district leader. For example, you may be easily frustrated and feel impatient when you fail to see rapid progress or easily prone to the type of stress that affects your overall health and wellbeing.
- Behavioral Patterns. What triggers our innate behaviors is not always easy to recognize; however, self-reflection can help. Through the process of identifying how you reacted under specific pressure situations (such as reopening schools during a pandemic), you can begin the process of improving your coping strategy and making healthier and more productive choices. For example, if you tend to wait to prepare for board meetings until the morning of the event, perhaps you frequently fail to give yourself enough time to review reports and discussion points adequately. By recognizing this pattern, you can make an effort to prepare further in advance and hold more impactful discussions.
- Your Influence Strategy. A genuine leader can influence others’ behaviors. As the director of a school district with possibly hundreds of staff and faculty members, you may not have access to each key player, which means you cannot direct them all through one-on-one guidance. By better understanding your personality strengths, you can find ways to leverage your influence to inspire others to reach their fullest potential.
- Values. Much of how you perform as a leader will be determined by what you prioritize as your core values. Understand that your values are not the same as your priorities, which change over time. This school year, your top priority might be student safety. Every year, however, regardless of what is happening in the world, your core values might include inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility for every student, faculty, and staff member.
- Goals. Setting goals is only useful if you take the time to consider if you achieved them and assess why you were or were not successful. A crucial part of self-reflecting about your goals involves being honest as to whether or not you could have done more to achieve them. There are a variety of reasons we fail to achieve our goals. However, if you can honestly say that you did not maintain momentum, check-in on milestones, or hold others accountable, then there are lessons to be learned for leading future projects.
Benefits of Self-Reflection for School Leaders
Parents hold schools accountable for the academic success of their children. As a district leader, you need to hold your faculty and staff accountable as well. Why then, would you not want to apply the same standards to yourself? Achievement starts at the top. By self-reflecting and focusing on personal improvement, you benefit from:
- Higher emotional intelligence, which will help you to be an empathetic leader.
- The highest levels of integrity and honesty, which will help you be a trustworthy leader.
- The self-confidence needed to facilitate even the most challenging initiatives in your district, which will help you be a decisive leader.
School district leaders must take a relationship-based approach to their leadership style. To be the type of leader that inspires faculty and staff, instills confidence in parents, and makes students feel safe and accepted, you need to continually self-reflect on your approach. Leaders who regularly participate in reflection exercises benefit from greater self-awareness and skill development. By carefully observing where you have succeeded and how you can improve, you will continue to be the type of influencer capable of creating the most progressive student outcomes and achievements.