Resources for Leaders

Dear School Leader, Your Leadership Matters!

Essential Question: Being a school leader in this complicated era has new challenges, and expectations for leaders have evolved. How does the view change by “getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony” to see the full vista and scope of your leadership removed from the daily fray of leading?

Leadership in America’s schools matters more than ever. The question that I pose for consideration is: what does successful leadership in today’s schools look like and require? As a former school leader, a principal, I have mentored, coached, studied, and continue to study leadership principles.

I think about the critical nature of leadership and how essential it is for the affirmative social, emotional, cultural, and academic development of every student. I also think about how and what the led expect from their leaders.

In regards to the hopes of those who are led, I often reflect on the poem, “A Word from the Led” by William Ayot. The poem reminds the reader that those who follow leaders desire to give to them trust, confidence, and support. All they ask in return is that their leaders stay true.

Today’s school leaders face challenges that were not anticipated a decade ago. In addition to ensuring that every student learns to their full potential, they must also provide a safe environment in the age of mass shootings and other threats to what was once considered a place of innocence and security.

The title of a 2002 classic book by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, says it best. Those in charge in 2023 know full well what that means. Each day for our nation’s school leaders must provide an opportunity to rise above the threats and challenges that rear their distracting and destructive heads. Leadership is fraught with risks and dangers. But leadership is also filled with hope, optimism, bold and compelling visioning, and stories of success.

The leader in 2023 and beyond will have greater access to sophisticated technological tools of communication than ever before. Leaders are and will be more adept in the use of these means to communicate their mission and vision both far away and up close to the communities which the school serves. The leader today has resources and tools at their disposal which are designed to engage communities of practice and those they serve in conversations dedicated to well-being, healing, and solution generation.

To 21st century leaders Heifetz and Linsky suggest “getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony” to see the full vista and scope of their leadership removed from the daily fray of leading. The view from the balcony allows them to reflect and imagine what equity focused and culturally responsive and rooted leading, teaching, and learning can look like within their school environment. Being on the balcony allows the leader the space to reflect, analyze, and assess.

The balcony also grants the leader space to examine their inner self and emotions and how they amplify or limit their outer self. This leader also realizes that they cannot stay remote and removed on the balcony too long. They must also come down from that lofty place and mix and mingle with the reality of the myriad issues that reside on the dance floor.

The leader must understand that the everyday nature of the work that they do is on the dance floor and that these routines and rituals can consume all of them, mind, body, and spirit. And though the dance floor view may afford those who are led to see the leader’s personal commitment to the well-being of all under their watch, the leader must be mindful of the taxing nature that it plays on them.

I close by encouraging leaders to surround themselves whenever possible with “critical friends”. Critical friends are those who will hold the mirror up in front of their friend and colleague. They will be the ones who will support, advocate, and provide a shoulder to lean on. These colleagues need not be numerous in number. However, they will be the friends who will help the leader to see the vision with clear eyes.

You matter, Leader. Onward and upward.