George Lucas Educational Foundation

What does great leadership look like?

What does great leadership look like?

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When it comes to education reform, my personal opinion (and it's supported by many), is that good leadership can make all the difference. But what does it look like and how can we encourage new leaders and support the development of those attributes in the people who are most passionate about reform? Recently I read a great piece by one of our bloggers, Rebecca Alber's How to Give Your School Leader a Grade, and she paints a picture of what success looks like for her. She talks about wanting a school leader who is in touch, who has clear goals, and who knows her stuff. I agree with all of those things, but I wanted to add to her list: Someone who isn't afraid to take chances. Seems obvious, but so many of the new ideas that could change the way we educate students requires someone to just GO FOR IT. (Check out this Schools That Work package on how social and emotional learning was implemented district-wide in Kentucky.) What do you think? What do you want in your education leaders?

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Susan Murrell Castaneda MS, NBCT's picture
Susan Murrell Castaneda MS, NBCT
Founder: Teacher Leadership Academy™ A New Model of Leading and Learning

As a recently retired district level Administrator, I asked myself many of the same questions I see posted here. Those questions served as the impetus to create a very unique and intensive professional development experience for teachers and educational leaders that approaches leadership through relationship.
Before I "officially" entered administration, I viewed my options in black and white....either I am a teacher or I am an administrator. Once I took the Admin step,I began to hear the deepest needs of the teachers with whom I was working. In my supervisory capacity for K-12 Instructional Coaches, I began tweaking what was emerging as a new way of leading.
Instructional Coaches found that establishing relationship was critical to inspiring and supporting teachers as they conceptualized leadership as occurring in the classroom, among their peers and within the community. Along the way, the IC team began to see startling changes when teachers could reframe leadership as "sharing what each knew and experienced, building connections and forming alliances."(as Elena quoted above) Perhaps most striking were the "aha" moments teachers experienced when they embraced Personal Leadership; Leading Yourself Before You Lead Others.
The Teacher Leadership Academy was born out of this experience. The instructors are the same Instructional Coaches who were crafting a teacher leadership model based on relationship and who passionately believe in its efficacy. As you can see, I am quite jazzed about the results we teaching, in learning and in student outcomes!!
It's a passionate undertaking and one that is about serving and supporting the possibilities.If you would like to know more, go to Leave your contact information to be linked to the Teacher Leadership Academy, to receive periodic updates, and to offer your suggestions!

Shari Hodges's picture
Shari Hodges
BA Music Ed, 1969, Cal State LA. Paralegal, Writer, Music Teacher

This is like reading Orwell. Where on earth did you guys ever get the idea that education has anything at all to do with leadership? Education is about enlightenment and academics. About being a well-rounded person.

There's Stanford Research again if I ever heard it, injecting ideology into Education. I had the best teachers anybody could have: displaced teachers who had to flee wars, and run to the United States as fast as they could. They killed good teachers in Germany, because they refused to teach all the propaganda.

Are you aware of the fact that Operation Paperclip brought a load of Nazi scientists over to the United States and put them in Stanford Research? These are the guys who developed all those assessment tests you think are so great. Fascism is all about Leadership. The brainwashing began in the 1950s - and again I should know - because my brother was up at Stanford in the 1950s - and I watched the erosion of public education.

They re-wrote the textbooks. Then they said, let's get rid of these annoying academics and replace them with "leaders" - and they can drown out any voices from the opposition. Stand back and take a look at what you really have.

Give you a little idea of what I'm talking about. There's a school district in a low-income part of Phoenix where they literally get down on their knees and beg you to come over and substitute. So I went over and subbed in Junior High and HIgh School.

I walked into an English class, and stared at 35 little confused faces - when I asked them why they were so confused, one brave little soul raised his hand and said "Our teacher gave us this assignment and we don't understand any of it." Do you know what the assignment was?

Write an essay about yourself and what you like best. These kids were 13 years old and they couldn't even write an essay. They also tried to write an essay with number 2 pencils because the district was too cheap to give them the proper writing equipment or decent paper. You can't write essays with number 2 pencils on kindergarden paper.

I had to explain to them how to write an essay. How on earth their teacher got a job bewilders me. I said "OK, just talk to me for 10 minutes about the things you like." They started talking to me, I couldn't stop them. They just had all sorts of fun things to say. Then I stopped them, and said "Just write exactly what you just said, don't worry about the grammer and spelling - just write."

You correct grammar and spelling later - you generate enthusiasm and self confidence first. They had the best time - they honestly had fun writing an essay - and they couldn't wait to read them to each other.

Nobody criticized them, nobody told them they didn't write correctly, nobody told them they had to "achieve" anything. Do you know why I was able to get these kids enthusiastic? Because I'm a REAL TEACHER.

Katherine Judd's picture
Katherine Judd
College writing and communications teacher

Susan (above) said she had to make a decision as to whether she was a teacher or an administrator. My question: Why was such a decision even necessary? While I am sure Susan was very good at her job, I feel the best administrative leaders are former teachers! In Tennessee, we have a new head of TBR who has never taught a class and has only a BS in Business. His appointment was purely a political decision, not an educational one. While there are undoubtly some excellent administrators, often teachers and administrators find themselves locked in controversy over how to implement educational change and reform. Former teachers carry a wealth of experience to the office of administrator! If more of them became administrators, we might actually see reforms which work!

dbixby001's picture
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

I agree with "Someone who isn't afraid to take chances" particularly since most districts shun taking chances.

For example, on numerous occasions, I saw Principals who tried new approaches. They fought the district administration, district technology, and district standards all the way: financially, mentally, politically, technically. They did not always succeed, but when they did, the districts accepted their successes and implemented them district-wide. Then, the district did not credit the Principal. They did not even reimburse the campus for the extra costs incurred to take that chance that they accepted as a success.

The leaders who stand out take chances again and again despite those hurdles.

dbixby001's picture
Citizen who understands Education is the most important piece in society.

Shari, you need leaders so that teacher CAN teach. I feel your comment comes from experience with bad leaders. What we need are good leaders. Good leaders let teachers teach and protect them all the outside influences. It is the lack of good leadership which has allowed teachers to be overburdening with standardized tests, restrictions on what they can do, and other hindrances to good teaching. It is because of lack of leadership that the bad leaders you mention gained so much influence over the system.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

Thanks everyone, for your comments so far! We have such varied experiences -- with good leaders and not so good.

I'm interested in reading anecdotes from the field that you all can share about effective leaders:

* When was a time something specific happened at your school site and your leader handled it with extreme competence?
* Do you have a story about a principal with exceptional people skills?
* How about a situation where an administrator courageously spoke up?

Thanks in advance for sharing!


Edwin C. Lloyd's picture

I believe a great leader, or great leadership needs to contain the following:
1. A clear mission (what is the purpose?)
2. Clear values and philosophy(what drives you?)
3. Strategic goals ( what do you want to accomplish in say, the next 3 months?, 6 months?)
4. Business Priorities (What do you want to accomplish first?)
5. Internal Performance ( How will you execute what you set out to do?)
6. External Performance ( How will you know you have reached out to your customers(students)? Do they see you reaching out to them in the way you said you would?
7. Breakthrough Leadership( Everyone in the organization, classroom, admin office, district, needs to step up as leaders, meaning it gets to happen at every level of education, not just in the classroom.
8. Breakthrough vision (Vision is the "cultural" glue that holds an organization together. Every worker in that organization, including students and parents, need to be able to see what the vision is so that everyone knows what direction they are going.

In order for the above 8 to happen, you need to build a culture of Trust, followed by Communication and Collaboration, Roles and Responsibilities, Committment, Focused Action, Accountability, and Results. I was able to build this in my classroom in my former school, and I will continue to do this at my new school, beginning this Fall. I look forward to hearing from you Lora. I enjoyed your blog, and look forward to reading more blogs from you.

Make it a fantastic day!!!
Bring it from your heart!!!
Ed Lloyd
Social Studies Teacher
World and U.S. History

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

Thank you for sharing your thorough list with us! I am with you in that trust plays such a large role in effective teaching -- and leadership. I believe it is the responsibility of the one in charge (i.e. principal of teachers, teacher of students) to seek the trust of those he/she leads. First and foremost, by taking advantage of every opportunity to build trust with those individuals.

Rebecca Alber

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