Education is about the students and their learning. How we spend our time as educators and as a school should always be directed toward student learning. Each student can be a powerful thinker and learner, and it is our responsibility to challenge and support them. Every student has the right of a year’s worth of learning for a year’s worth of time. Learning is not limited to academics but also social, emotional, and behavioral learning of the young people we work with. Every space in a school is a learning space, every time a student is on campus is a learning opportunity, and every student regardless of language and learning needs will be celebrated for their learning.
As a leader, the largest implication for this belief is that my vision for schools is focused on improving learning appropriately and sufficiently for every student. Leading a complex, student-centered, learning-focused school requires me to share my vision with all stakeholders, work with others to bring the vision to life, and support all teachers and students as they work toward their own learning goals. As a leader, being focused on learning allows me to make decisions about how I spend the limited time and resources of a school. Focusing on learning has helped me lead the development of school strategic plans, shape professional learning goals of the school, reflect during curriculum reviews, and lead conversations about student behavior or learning needs.
Education is about community. Learning does not happen in isolation and schools are about the people they serve. Students and teachers should be learning from each other every day in as many contexts as possible: classrooms, service learning, playgrounds, online, interdisciplinary learning experiences, libraries, extracurriculars, and more. Students should be truly known and respected by the adults in the building so they feel seen, supported, and challenged. Parents must be invited into the school community often, and it is the school’s responsibility to use traditional and nontraditional ways to involve parents in their child’s learning. Teachers and staff can also form their own learning communities, as some of the best professional development can come from watching teachers in the building. Building a strong community allows all stakeholders to feel safe and valued, and therefore they will take risks, ask questions, become resilient, and develop a growth mindset when it comes to education.
As a leader, I build a culture of community throughout the school, with parents, students, and staff. There is no magic formula for this process, as each community is unique with its own needs. It takes time, patience, and laughter to fully understand a school’s culture. Being a visible presence, running parent sessions, knowing the students’ strengths and weaknesses, supporting pastoral programs, and being willing to serve students and teachers is the minimum of what is required of me as a school leader. Listening to all stakeholders is imperative to building relationships and being a learner myself helps develop trust. I will help build a collaborative and supportive community that will inevitably have an impact on student learning.
Education is about empowerment. The mission of almost every school includes helping young people to become leaders in the world. Helping students develop the skills and dispositions to make a difference in the global community should be one of the main goals of schools. Schools should provide opportunities for student voice and choice in their learning, allowing them to define themselves as individuals and learners. Teachers and staff must also feel empowered in a school. This can be through having autonomy in the classroom, feeling engaged in a larger school mission, and supported when they make decisions with the best interest of students in mind.
As a leader, one of my primary responsibilities is empowering teachers and other leaders in the school, often through coaching or mentoring. Teacher supervision should be about helping teachers improve their craft to improve student learning. Empowering middle leaders is imperative—if they are given the opportunity to improve their leadership skills, knowledge, and dispositions, they will have an indirect positive impact on a large number of students. Nonpositional leaders should also be given a voice and choice, either by seeking feedback from teachers and staff or allowing teachers to share best practices. And none of this can happen without trusting relationships, based on the positive intentions that everyone in the school is working toward a common mission and vision.
Education is complex. Education is ever-changing, schools serve people with innumerable needs, and the future we are preparing our students for can seem daunting. Young people come to school every day with many experiences, needs, and interests that influence how they learn. Therefore, schools must be grounded in good practice but willing to innovate when it will benefit students. Also, students must have the opportunity to learn conceptually and through inquiry but also systematically develop the skills and understanding that will transfer outside of school. I believe personalized learning serves all students, but we must develop ways to assess and track student learning. This complex and dynamic nature of schools continues to inspire me as I evolve as an educator.
As a leader, the complexity is what makes school a challenge and a joy. Always being excited and inquisitive about education and its changes means I am always optimistic about schools, something I bring to the teams I work with. Managing change, as I have done through introducing concept-based learning and new technologies, is something that I believe all leaders must understand. Clear and concise communication can simplify the complexity of schools for all stakeholders. Being flexible, while also maintaining my core belief that all students deserve the opportunity to learn, allows me to adjust to the needs of the school while not seeming inconsistent. And being engaged in my own professional learning allows me to know what innovations and changes are worth evaluating for my school and students. And finally, tracking my indirect impact on learning, using qualitative and quantitative evidence allows me to know that in the chaos of education, I am moving in the right direction in leading the students and staff in the school.