How School Leaders Can Make a Difference This Year

A school leader can be a true difference maker. Building a solid culture is important anytime. It's especially important in a world when everything is new--remote learning, hybrid learning, or face-to-face learning in a social distance world. 

Here is how school leaders can make a difference this year and forever, according to the co-authors of Hacking Leadership. 

A Better Way, excerpted from Hacking Leadership, by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis

Spend thirty minutes watching a leader interact with members of the school community and you will be able to determine her stance on leadership and discover whether she embraces the hacking leadership mindset. Education hackers challenge the status quo and see a problem as an opportunity to try various solutions.

Hacking school leadership is about empowering other people so they can achieve their hopes, dreams, and goals. Whether working with students, teachers, or family members, a school leader’s objective must be to remove barriers and help transform perceived problems into opportunities and possibilities.

The daily work of a school leader is no longer just being an administrator or manager or even a boss; instead, a school leader needs to model transformative practices so that innovating becomes a norm and working with common principles becomes a collective goal for community members.

Sitting in an office checking emails and efficiently completing paperwork does not fulfill the needs of the modern school. Effective leaders put learning at the center of daily work. The time has come to hack traditional school practices to emphasize authentic and personalized learning experiences, not just policies, mandates, and test scores.

When school leaders embrace the opportunity to lead with heart, healthy relationships unfold within the community, inspiring practices that are in children’s best interests. With a leader’s impact and direction, these relationships underpin the culture of a school.

All members of the community contribute to and perpetuate the culture of a building, but the school leader sets the tone and has the greatest single influence on a school’s positive or negative culture.

Culture is predicated on and expressed in feelings and emotions, but there are still tangible signals that indicate a school’s culture.

The parking lot and exterior of the building give an initial impression—a poorly maintained exterior communicates a different attitude than a well-manicured and inviting exterior does.

An even more accurate impression results from the way the main office team greets a visitor. You can get a pretty good read on the school’s climate based on whether you’re offered a warm smile and welcome or have no one look up to acknowledge your presence. 

Spending thirty minutes with the principal puts a human face on the culture and helps solidify your understanding of it.

Does the principal communicate positive, healthy, and compassionate relationships with all members of the community or stay in the office and complain about the staff? A principal’s demeanor and attitude clearly indicate the culture and signal what could be happening throughout the school.

We believe that schools can offer inspiration, hope, and opportunity to both children and adults. Leadership determines if a school has a significant purpose and whether it meets that purpose effectively. Educators who are ready to hack school leadership want children to feel loved, safe, and empowered as learners and as individuals.

Leaders who employ a hacker’s mindset want kids to discover things they didn’t even realize existed or were possible. They want teachers and family members to know that they matter and that they have a voice in what happens in their school. Hacking school leadership means considering what schools could be tomorrow and making that a reality today.

Avoid trendy, Band-Aid solutions

Cultivating a forward-thinking environment involves setting the stage for the amazing to happen and giving all members of the community space to be the best they can be. Too often students, educators, and families experience multiple new initiatives at once, each implemented in the hope that it will be the magic potion that fixes the many problems that afflict the school district.

We know that the Band-Aid solutions offered by many initiatives or standardized curriculum do not affect sustainable improvement and change. 

If we want to move past trendy, superficial solutions, we must begin by hacking leadership. Preparing the environment through an innovative leadership approach is essential for long-term success. We believe our schools should be playgrounds of creativity, not places where content is merely memorized and repeated.

If leaders allow staff creative influence and establish an environment that values creativity, learners win. Effective communication is critical to moving a school from having isolated moments of excellence to working consistently at a superior level. In excellent schools, all participants feel valued and contribute to the positive narrative.

Successful school cultures facilitate communication between teams, between leadership and staff, between school and community. Because a school’s culture extends to all of its stakeholders, effective interactions are the single most important non-negotiable in creating flourishing schools. And these schools and their leaders aren’t born; they have to be hacked. 

Excerpted from Hacking Leadership, published by Times 10

If there were ever a time to avoid trendy and to hack leadership, it's now. Our students, colleagues, parents, and community members need us more than ever. 

Start by believing that you can make a difference. There's a pretty good chance that you will.

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