Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Skills and Dispositions of Accomplished Administrators

In schools today the pace of change and shifting sands are quick. Skilled administrators need to wear many hats and be strategic yet operational at the same time. They must build empathy, be inclusive and build a learning culture where shared decision-making allows teachers and students to thrive. 

Core skills to being an accomplished administrator include:
  • Being a strong listener. Use human-centered design to gain and build empathy for faculty and students. Listen deeply and sometimes passively, like a fly on the wall. Turn ideas and thoughts into action. While taking the time to listen is important, it's equally important to have a bias for action. When the same thing emerges from multiple interviews, conversations and observations, strong administrators take action. Great leaders can embrace conflict for the good of the organization and do not constantly seek harmony. Building relationships and the trust of the team around you is core to building community. 
  • Empowering others. Strong administrators aren't afraid to include others in decision-making. They are comfortable with taking calculated risks and living in some degree of ambiguity. They support their faculty when trying new approaches to teaching and learning. Teacher-powered schools are filled with positive energy. Provide incentives and support to empower teachers like innovation grants, fellowships or co-teaching opportunities. Create spaces for teachers to collaborate, plan and share. 
  • Knowing how to use technology to enhance teaching and learning. The best advice I ever got with regard to using technology is to not just use it to "sharpen the pencil," in other words, don't use technology as a digital workbook. Strong administrators have the skills to model, leverage and share how technology augments the teaching and learning process. While technology will never replace a teacher, approaches like blended learning, the flipped classroom and even technology supported competency based learning free the teacher to focus on active learning, facilitation of project-based learning and personalization. A strong integrated technology system allows for scheduling, grades, blended learning and parent communications to easily connect and share information seamlessly. 
  • Strong public speaking and outreach. Share what is happening that is amazing in your classrooms, with your students lives outside of school and the impact learning is having at your school. Meet with parents, community stakeholders and funders to let them know about the good things happening at your school. Use data and other qualitative evidence to communicate, open source ideas and teach others about your successes. Present at conferences and hold local professional development events at your school. Host student programs like FIRST Lego League competitions that bring others into your school. 
Core dispositions to being an accomplished administrator include:

  • Being a servant leader. Put others before yourself. Treat people equally and be aware of implicit bias, be an agent of social justice and good. Model for faculty and students that we are stronger when we care about each other. Be careful not to judge people too quickly or hold grudges. Be authentic in your pursuit to serve others and think about their wellbeing. Letting folks go a bit early on an in-service day, offering yoga after school or provide other incentives to your team so they feel appreciated. I believe you give an inch and can get a mile back in return. 
  • Having a growth mindset. As an accomplished leader, having a growth-mindset is extremely important. You can't expect faculty and students to learn and grow in authentic ways if you are not modeling this mindset as an administrator. Don't be afraid to take risks, fail fast and bounce back. Be honest about where you need help and develop evaluation systems that focus on growth. Use emotional intelligence when communicating hard news or bounce ideas off of a trusted advisor who may have more emotional intelligence than you before communicating more broadly. Be publicly optimistic and show gratitude. 
  • Be a designer and dreamer. Accomplished administrators have vision, get others excited and want to help design new ideas, programs and possibilities. Focus on the concept of "yes, and" vs "no, but" when staff comes to you with ideas for changes, new programs and student challenges. Model iteration within program design, promote the design of pilot programs that include both faculty and student voice. Hold school-wide design-challenges and involve parents in shaping the future of the school. Being mindful of the extreme task of preparing students for new roles and careers that don't even exist yet. Don't be afraid to be the first school in your area to try something new - share what you learn with others. 
  • Be connected. Being on social media, keeping a blog, being digitally connected. Host and participate in twitter chats (I'm a moderator for #dtk12chat and #isedchat), create a school hash-tag to share success, keep a back-channel conversation and build a network of like-minded peers locally, nationally and even globally. Regularly visit schools, universities, work places to build partnerships and connected learning opportunities for students.  Create space in the schedule to get students off-campus and into the field where "content" comes alive through work study, project-based learning and service learning. Encourage faculty to also visit other schools and conduct "learning walks" and come back to campus to share what they learn. Some of the best professional development can be done via social media. Show peers and faculty the benefits and model this type of professional growth. 
While there are certainly more skills and dispositions accomplished administrators must hold, these eight build the foundation for success. Whether it be motivating others, solving or analyzing problems or developing innovative programming, accomplished administrators display high integrity and honesty. Education as an industry is facing an amazing time of change. Amidst all the calls to innovation, administrators must continue to clearly communicate, create and collaborate while they thrive within ambiguity and develop new models of teaching and learning. 

Strong administrators recognize the value of connection and networks. 

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