High Expectations. I believe those two words are the key to my personal philosophy and leadership style. I have developed my personal philosophy over the past twelve years of International teaching. Those years have given me a healthy and balanced perspective from which to construct practical and effective educational environments to support and improve student learning.
I have been fortunate to work in vastly different cultures, beginning in Canada and moving through the Middle East, Asia, and South America. I have worked in small and large schools, academically rigorous schools, and schools that emphasized the social and emotional development of the child. I feel I have a good perspective to say what works in a highly effective school and how to go about creating a dynamic learning environment.
My educational philosophy and leadership style has been formed through answering my own questions and reflecting on my educational experiences both as a learner and leader;
What does ‘good education’ look like?
What makes a school great?
What makes an exceptional leader?
We don’t know what our students will be facing when they graduate. But we do know it will be vastly different from what we are experiencing at the present. We need to prepare our students for the unknown by emphasizing critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills, media literacy, and problem solving in our curriculums. I’ve worked with colleagues to promote these skills at my past two schools, partly by creating mentoring programs that emphasize community service and teamwork as students deal with global issues. I believe, as educators, we not only have to teach the 3 R’s, we also have to educate students to be the leaders of tomorrow and be productive and caring global citizens.
A great school is complex. As you walk around a school you should see a vast array of activities that can accommodate all types of students; there should be a buzz at the school – Children should come to school with a smile on their face and leave knowing they’ve learned something new and grown as an individual.
In order to create a dynamic learning environment you need strong leadership. You need a leader who not only promotes the right type of things, but one that models those exact same things in their day-to-day life.
There are four main foundations for my educational philosophy;
Leadership requires vision. Leaders should have a personal vision and forge a shared vision with their faculty. A leader needs to be proactive and recognize the shifts in interests and needs of their student body and challenge the status quo. Schools need to embrace change. This is one of the daunting tasks of the 21st Century for education. I have been a part of, and will continue to promote, a yearly summit where faculty of the school gather and discuss the present status of the school and look towards the future and create actionable steps to better the learning environment to the ever changing needs of the student body.
2. Instructional Leader (Student Learning Focused)
Principals should be, first and foremost, instructional leaders. While it is true a principal wears many hats during the day, perhaps the most important hat is that of the instructional leader. At the end of the day, education is about student learning. Principals need to have a deep understanding of human learning by staying current in literature and research. They must lead staff to embrace instructional practices and techniques that best meets the needs of the student body at their school. My extensive years in the classroom, and experience in shifting pedagogical practices and garnering buy-in from faculty, makes me confident in leading a staff as we work together to improve teaching and learning.
Principals must be ready for resistance to new and improved ways of operating, and work to overcome it by building alliances with key staff members and informing faculty in a clear and consistent manner the purpose and objectives for change. An instructional leader should also be comfortable using data to strengthen his case for instructional change. At my previous schools I have spearheaded MAP data usage to positively change instructional practice based upon analysis through a data team I have formed with colleagues.
Effective principals must be able to motivate staff, students, parents, and the school community. This means being in regular contact with stakeholders throughout the year and being visible around campus. I believe in sending out weekly emails to the community informing them of not only events at the school but also the latest news in education and research. Additionally, I like to hold coffees with parents to inform them about our program and to allow them a time to ask questions and feel a part of the community. This is a way to build trust and openness in the community and support the idea of the triangle of education.
Praise for a job well done, through a note in a box or a friendly email, combined with timely doses of humour, sets the stage for a positive work place and happy staff members. An effective staff is one where they enjoy coming to work, interacting with colleagues, and feel respected and valued. I always take time out of my schedule to stop in and talk to staff members face to face instead of sending an email because I value personal interactions and building relationships. Teachers who feel cared for will pay back this good will through an increase in effort towards their students, school, and community.
It is important to know the difference between Leadership and Management. Yes, there is inherent management in the principal position, but to truly make a difference I believe that moving towards a coaching model is the right step. I’m training in cognitive coaching and have worked with colleagues in an effort to help them achieve their personal goals. When conflict arises, I believe that through open communication and dialogue resolution can be had and all parties will benefit.
The principalship is a complex and challenging task. It requires an abundance of energy, caring, and people skills. It requires an understanding of best practice in instruction and assessment. It requires the ability to motivate staff and navigate the new technologies of the 21st century. It requires the ability to look into the future and foresee what the needs will be for students who will graduate years from now. A principal needs to be able to do all of this while always keeping in mind, in the end, it is all about providing a safe, caring, and dynamic learning environment for the student.