What to look for in an effective school leader

What does it mean to be an effective school leader? This question been pervading my mind the past few months. Perhaps it’s because I’m moving through the various steps to formalizing an education non-profit and have been confronting my own emerging leadership identity. Maybe it’s the conversations I’ve been having with high school teachers who are participating in Teacher Lab’s initial pilot project. Though the pilot is primarily grounded in the classroom teaching and learning, school leadership impacts what is happening there, from mandated school or district curriculum to a top-down vision that places the leaders more or less in complete control of where the school is headed. Even more, it may be weekly conversations I have with a number of teachers at another local high school and their persistent beliefs that the school administration seems to be driving the mission and vision of that school while leaving teachers out of the conversation entirely, despite the administration’s ongoing attempts to include teachers in the dialogue and decision-making.

Through all of the above interactions, I’m learning just how impactful multi-faceted and demanding effective leadership can be. Over the past 20 or so years, I’ve been fortunate to observe and work for numerous leaders who embody leadership ideals and live them every day. I’ve also observed and worked for leaders who fail to be effective, despite perhaps their best intentions and efforts to do so. As an education consultant, instructional coach, and teacher-induction mentor, I spend a substantial chunk of time out at various San Francisco Bay Area schools. And though I’m not currently a school leader, per se, I observe school leadership in local elementary, middle, and high schools almost every day most weeks of the school year.

So, what does it mean to be an effective school leader, and what might be some strategies for articulating your own vision of leadership?

I decided to begin with a concept-map brainstorming exercise using MindMup, where you can make and download mind maps for free (no membership signup required).  It’s a first attempt at a map, and I decided to use the more creative “spider” option. While it’s not the most appealing visually, it does encapsulate my quick “all over the place” brainstorming process!

What Leadership Means to Me: Initial Brainstorm