Mike McCarthy, a 30 year educator in Maine shared with Edutopia what his big ideas were around school leadership. The very first idea shared by Mike was, “Your School Must Be For All Kids 100 Percent of the Time”. This is a pretty powerful statement, and while one would think that every administrator would have this as one of her or his “big ideas”, it is sometimes harder to actualize than most would think.
Principals at all levels face pressures from a number of constituencies across the school community: Parents, teachers, school committees, superintendents, students, state and federal agencies, and other central office departments. Decision making can be hard, especially if you know that the decisions you will make are in the best interest of children and your school, yet you know that not everyone will like them. When you do make tough decisions, what happens when not everyone likes them or believes in them? Even though you may be for kids one hundred percent of the time, it can be easy to back away from discourse when staff or community members do not like the course you have chosen. My experience is and has been, make decisions based on what is best for students, be prepared to explain the “why” and stand firm.
Mike noted that it is important to create a vision, write it down, and start implementing it. I appreciated this, especially his thought that by doing so, you bring consistency to the work that you do. In a day and age where education is changing rapidly, what will help a school stay the course in the work it does for children? Educational leaders “steer the ship” at the school level, helping move things forward no matter what initiatives are on the forefront. It is key to have a vision and make sure that staff know what that vision is. As Mike noted, everything you do should be related to the vision that you share for the school.
People in education like it when things work the first time, which is great, except a reality is, not everything you try will be perfect. You may even decide that you can’t perfect some things that you try, and maybe you abandon them. Going into situations with realistic expectations always helps. Additionally, letting staff know that it is “ok” if it does not work perfectly helps tremendously. People need to know that they have permission to try things and that they may not work perfectly. Mike McCarthy was sure to point out that as the leader, you have responsibility for the good and the bad. I’ve always said, “All roads lead back to the principal”.
I agree with Mike’s thoughts on change, and that large change needs to come quickly. Waiting for the “right time” or the perfect conditions can create a culture of mediocrity. Now, that said, I don’t think that decisions can be made wrecklessly, but if a decision is going to be made in the best interest of students and change needs to occur, it is likely better to have everything thought out, be reflective, and push through. It’s like taking off a band-aid…sometimes the slower you pull, the more it hurts. One quick pull, and it is less painful.
Those are some of the ideas I liked from Mike’s piece. To read the entire piece and see a short video clip with Mike McCarthy, click on the links below. In the meantime, give some thought to what your “big ideas” are and where you stand in regards to school leadership.
Thomas Martellone, M.Ed.