There are many aspects that contribute to a successful school. There are several integral pieces that, when combined, establish a culture that begets academic excellence, well-being, and equity. Entering my sixth year in the profession of education, I believe that the principal maintains the greatest impact on these three integral pillars. But I didn’t always think this. My experience as a student led me to believe that student culture, created by students and fostered (and sometimes impeded) by teachers was the sole contributing factor to an educational space. As a teacher, I believed that teachers themselves were the weathermen and women of a school climate. Through my thoughts about maybe one day becoming a school leader, I now cling to the metaphor that, “when the principal sneezes, everyone gets a cold”.
There are always intangible factors that affect how educational leaders lead. Board initiatives from the top suture with school level challenges from below and combine to create the unique experience of being a school leader in today’s world. But when I consider educational leadership, my thoughts always gravitate to the idea of creating a shared vision. And regardless of the particulars pertaining to the vision, it can only be successful if the following three ideals are met. These three ideals of educational leadership are: communication, connecting and care.
As a teacher, I have a direct impact on my classroom community. I am able to establish the culture and lead my students to an understanding of our shared expectations. Through co-curricular involvement, I am also able to connect to a wider audience of students and foster my ideas of what makes a school productive and unique. Because I am in daily communication with my students, and beyond that, because I genuinely care about their growth as individuals, I am receptive to their needs. But my vision for the direction of an entire school is limited in my role as a teacher.
The ideals of communication, connecting, and care transform slightly from one’s role as an educator (and thus their philosophy of education) and one’s role as a school leader (and thus their philosophy of educational leadership). Communication is the first key in educational leadership because without it there would be no shared vision. As a leader, constant yet authentic communication, with staff and students, leads to understanding and true learning. Through communication we are able to create transparency and establish culture. Communication is where ideas flourish and materialize and everyone in the building brings their unique selves to the forefront for the better of the school.
As we communicate we are able to connect in meaningful ways that allow for the establishment of trust, accountability and direction. It is important to note that the bodies in the school connect as much through their similarities as their dissimilarities. But without first communicating and finding connections, the idea of growth is lost. Thus, communication and connecting lead to courageous conversations; amongst staff and admin, students and beyond. There is no progress in terms of dialogue unless we first establish a connection.
These two ideals are contingent on the idea of care. An effective leader truly cares about the work. As an educational leader, caring for the students must always come first. It is my firm belief that educators’ primary role is to foster self-esteem, positive self-image, and academic success in all students they encounter – and in that order. The backbone of an effective school leader is one’s ability to demonstrate care day in and day out. Ultimately, we can only have an effective school when we have communication, connections, and care. Without any one of these three things, a solid environment will be difficult to maintain.
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