Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reflecting honestly on my leadership practices...

Forgive me blog for I have sinned - it has been several months since my last post, eeek.

I wanted to write that and formally own that because I know how challenging it can be for our teachers to ensure they are reflecting regularly and analysing their practice on top of the day to day grind of teaching, managing, coaching, personal life etc and I am no different. I believe it's important for a leader to understand other peoples roles, their workload and what it takes to juggle everything and prioritise their tasks and that a good leader will role model this themselves. So, although my role changed last term from DP to Acting Principal, I didn't want to drop the ball and ignore my responsibilities to reflect on my own practice when and where possible.
This reflection is about my change of role. I wanted to reflect back after having been in the hot seat for several weeks and look firstly at what the change of role was like, what difference it made to my professional growth and development and what might eventuate out of this change.
To be quite honest, the change to acting principal was quite seamless in some ways. I was lucky enough to work alongside my last principal more than for them and so there was very little that I didn't have involvement in already as the DP. In saying that, there have been some small but noticeable differences. I felt more withdrawn from staff and students. A huge amount of the principal's work at our school seems to revolve around meetings. My role as DP was all about administration and relationships - staff, students and whānau. As acting, it was less of all of those things but a huge increase in meetings - CAIMS, cluster, CPPA, Ministry, Board, transition meetings and planning for the new principal and 1-1 family visits for new students looking to enrol. My admin dropped a lot which is nice but I seriously missed the daily connection to staff and students. Reflecting on what this means and what I have learned is that I feel that the principals role in a large school is often just as the face of the school. The person who fronts and speaks on behalf of the school. The only way you can be successful in this role e.g. being able to make the right decisions in the best interest of your staff, students and community, is if you know their strengths and needs really well. Herein lies the paradox - how do you know this crucial information really well if you are always off/busy in meetings? I can see how the disconnect could have serious repercussions for a school if the principal becomes quite distanced from the heart and soul of a school (kids and staff) that they then become the face and voice/decision maker about school issues they may not know enough about. This of course will lead to disillusioned staff, poor resourcing, lack of communication etc. The challenge is maintaining the vital balance of being available to and engaging with your school community while upholding your responsibilities to the external groups. How I dealt with that challenge was through calendar scheduling (critical in this role) and blocking out time for anyone who asked for it. I also continued to keep my door open at all times when I wasn't in a meeting which is what I have always done as a DP. I don't know how feasible that would be if I was in the role full-time but for 1 term I was determined to keep that tikanga going.
In relation to what difference this change has meant for me professionally and personally and next steps, I am grateful to have had the opportunity. It did open my eyes to some of the challenges and possibilities of being a school principal and it has made me carefully consider if this is something I want going forward. Being the principal of my current school was appealing because I know and love our kids and staff. But what would it be like at another school? I also know that the demands on your time can leave very little for your own family and personal health/fitness if you allow the balance to be one-sided. So yes applying for principals positions make sense in terms of a next career step but that would depend heavily on the school, the location and the school community. People are important to me and make it either really worthwhile or really hard work! I won't be rushing into anything but am a firm believer I will make the right decision about my next career move when the right opportunity comes knocking. Although I have only been here at my current school for almost 2 years, both as DP and then as acting principal for 1 term, I aim to add some value to the school in some way and that is my priority and goal for now.
Another key reflection around my leadership practices occurred earlier this year while I was away at a leadership hui in Auckland and I was able to reflect on some of the areas of my leadership I feel need to be developed.
While attending the hui we were working on some activities to identify our leadership style. One of the key breakthrough a-ha moments for me was when I was becoming frustrated that there were some issues happening back at school. I was being emailed or rung about about how to solve an issue or just being kept in the loop. This is a good thing in some ways e.g. open communication etc, but I also reflected that I seemed to be often needed and contacted whenever I am off site. The facilitator of the hui did a great job of challenging me about why staff were emailing, ringing me and made me turn it back to myself and have me consider whether this was about the confidence and competence of staff or more about my leadership style. Have I set up systems and organised things so that I am the one needed to make decisions or act, rather than empowering others to be able to do that?
I have always known I like to get things done and can sometimes think 'I will do this myself because I want it done a certain way or by a specific time'. Although I of course want to be consulted and informed of key issues, I need to build the skills and capabilities of others to be able to address issues effectively, whenever I am unavailable or they are in the right position and capable of doing it themselves.
We have structured the leadership team for this to happen specifically around behaviour, but I can see the need to ensure this becomes more widespread. Even the example of our Monday morning admin meetings, where I am always the one to set the TV up, run through the agenda and lead the discussion. I noticed that if I am late and I assume when I am not there, no-one really takes the initiative to lead this themselves. Not because they cant, but perhaps because they see me doing it and assume it needs/should be me, when in reality, it doesn't.
I like to think I can help everyone and want to reduce the workload for teachers as I know they are so busy and appreciate any support they can get, but often this means that I rush to step in and 'fix' things for them, rather than with them. I need to ensure my inner control freak is kept under control!
One of my next steps is to hunt out opportunities to openly encourage other people to step up and problem solve, take on small but key leadership responsibilities or make important decisions themselves. When staff come to me and ask me to 'fix' something, a key statement I will use from now on will be "Thanks for sharing this issue with me, how can I help you to resolve it".

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