From Teacher to Leader: Finding Your Way as a First-Time Leader—Without Losing Your Mind by Starr Sackstein

4. Building Relationships for Early Success

  • Behind every successful leader is a person who knows and values the relationships he has built with every person in the organization. Being a leader can be lonely. Finding your first real friend will ease some of the isolation. This probably won’t be a mentor who is a superior. Fight the urge to gossip as it is always detrimental. You need to listen a lot, which may not be easy for doers. It puts the focus on the other person. Your job as a leader is not to tell your team what to do. Your job is to amplify what they do well and help them want to be better.

5. The Slow-Moving Treadmill of Change

  • It’s important to explain why specific changes are necessary and to sell them to your team. Leverage early adopters to help sell the vision. Forcing them to change faster than they were ready to is a good way to fail. Put the kindling into the hands of the folks you know will stoke the biggest fires and then invite more people into the conversation. One goal is to provide your team with an authentic opportunity to collaborate and facilitate their work.

6. Be the Leader You Wish You’d Had

  • It will take time for your team to know you are on their side. One way you can communicate this is by asking them to invite you into their classroom when they are doing something they want you to see. Co-planning and co-teaching with members of your team is another great way to prove yourself as a new leader. Get into classrooms and show you’re willing to do what you’re asking your team to do. If you know your stuff and make the process enjoyable, word will spread. Do what you say you are going to do. Drop in at extracurricular meetings and help clubs and classes set up blogs. Attend after school and evening events. Be visible at lunch duty and recess. (Doug: This is something that central office administrators almost never do.)

7. Planting Seeds for Sustainability

  • Great leaders help educators discover on their own the changes they need to make. As a leader, you are also a talent coach. Your job is to notice what your team members do well—and where their hidden talents lie. You must provide all team members with actionable feedback to ensure they are functioning at their optimal level. Teaching is such a nuanced profession, that I find it impossible to do authentic evaluations. Work through a few challenges at a time which allows for more pointed feedback and growth. Starr provides a list of suggestions regarding teacher observations. The most important might be to tell teachers you expect them to engage in constant improvement. You should also expect them to self-evaluate. She conducts her department meeting like she conducted her classes as a teacher with lesson plans shared prior to the meeting and exit tickets assigned near the end of the meeting. Teacher feedback helps her plan for the next meeting. Make it clear that you are responding to their feedback.
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