…and I live in a small town. If the title alone doesn’t get the famous song running through your mind, take a moment to listen to this little ditty (couldn’t resist throwing in another Mellencamp reference).
So technically, I was born in a larger city close to my small town, and I live in the country outside of that same small town. But, that just doesn’t make for good lyrics. John Mellencamp and I are also both from Indiana, and while I identify with much of his famous song, there is a part where I disagree.“My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity”
There are opportunities anywhere and everywhere. Leaders look for those opportunities, or they are the ones who create them. I love being an educator in a small town. It was a choice. Just as it was a choice to return to my hometown to raise my own children in that small town. I don’t apologize for working in a small district. I don’t feel less than my colleagues who work in larger corporations. I actually have an advantage in many ways. There is more opportunity to get to know all of the stakeholders better; to form more authentic relationships. I like to learn teachers’ strengths and encourage them to share their talents/knowledge with peers. I have the opportunity to get to know the children I work with and their families. I can focus more on the learning, and less on the statistics of testing data. Do I have as many financial opportunities as leaders in larger school districts? Probably not. But then, what educator chose this career for the money?“I can breathe in a small town.”
The two most important factors in maximizing student achievement are data and teacher preparedness. Teachers collect many data points throughout the school year. Those daily observations, class work, benchmark assessments, and yearly standardized assessments all go together to show us the big picture to identify gaps in our curriculum, and areas of strength and weakness, as well as needs of individual students. This information should be utilized regularly to impact instruction, remediation, challenge, and achievement.
Likewise, we need to make sure our teachers have all the tools necessary to best instruct their students. The data is only one piece of the toolkit. We need to invest in them to ensure they have the proper training, and knowledge on educational best practices.
The data is the roadmap, the teachers are the navigators. These two together can maximize our students’ achievement.
A leader’s role in developing teams is of utmost importance for the school’s success. By accepting the role as a building principal, I am also accepting the role as the leader of a team. Howard Schultz, owner of Starbucks, says this, “Today, my role is to be Starbucks’ leader, its visionary, cheerleader, and keeper of the flame” (Maxwell 100). That one sentence easily summarizes the job of a team leader or building principal. Having the right leader is only part of the success to the organization. That leader must find the right people for each team. This boils down to The Law of the Niche, which means, “All players have a place where they add the most value,” (Maxwell 28).
A building leader wants all of the teachers and staff to be team players. I strongly believe in utilizing “in-house talent”. I don’t want to look for outside consultants or trainers if I have someone on staff who is passionate and knowledgeable in the same area. The key is getting to know those teachers and staff by first building authentic relationships. Maxwell points out that to put people in the right places you must: 1. know the team, 2. know the situation, and 3. know the player (35).
Once the right team is established, then the principal’s role needs to continue to be keeping people focused on the vision. This can be managed by setting a timeline and goals to work towards along the way. The leader keeps people engaged by celebrating each victory as it is reached. The team members will need that “cheerleader” to keep them excited and energized after the initial high has worn off. By attracting people who care about the mission (i.e. revamping the remediation efforts, implementing digital devices, changing the high ability program), the leader most likely has players who see the vision. Without the leader painting the big picture, the team will lose the desire to work towards accomplishing the common goals (Maxwell 21).
The stakeholders need to feel involved and important in everyday matters of school success. If the leader fosters a shared vision and the team members take ownership in that vision, then they will work harder toward achieving the goals mutually established (Rubin 11). By putting the right people on the right teams, keeping the vision in front of them, and communicating progress, the building principal can drive school success.
And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to show up to team meetings with lattes and cappuccino! Bonus tip: A good leader analyzes the relationship between the size of coffee and time of the meeting, and provides accordingly.
Maxwell, J. (2001). The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Rubin, H. (2009). Collaborative Leadership (2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://www.coursesmart.com