Redefining the Timeless Tradition of School Leadership

For 48 consecutive years my cousins have descended on Loon Lake for a week-long vacation.  Nestled in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Loon Lake beckons them each summer to relive the memories of yesteryear while creating new ones for future years. What began as a family trip for my Uncle Rudy and Aunt Barbara and their first two of five children in 1964 has evolved to a full-fledged family reunion of nearly 20 today. Since my family lives but 15 minutes from Loon Lake, we have had the privilege of visiting them each year for an early evening swim and dinner. My daughter usually is invited by her younger relatives for a ski or tube experience while my wife and I visit with cousins and my Aunt and Uncle. Sometimes my mom and stepdad join in as well. It’s a wonderful, healthful, spiritual experience spending time with them. Their annual Look Lake reunion nourishes the mind, body, and spirit. Such are the power of traditions and family.

Education has its traditions as well, and how we teach children and run schools in this country has been as seemingly timeless as the On Golden Pond experiences of family vacations. Principals, formerly known as Principal Teachers or Headmasters, steward staff and students through the education process by managing systems, communicating with various stakeholders, analyzing data, putting out fires, attending meetings, planning curricula, observing teachers,… In most cases, the principal attempts to lead while all others follow (begrudgingly or not). I say “attempt” because if one is seeking instructional leadership, leading a school today is too complex and demanding for any one person to do well by themselves.

Principals are not supermen and superwoman, yet we trust them to accomplish superhuman tasks. Take teacher observation as an example. It takes three hours for a competent principal to perform a valid, non-biased, evidence-based teacher observation which includes pre and post conferences. With a staff of 75-100 teachers, one principal would conduct 150-200 observations under RttT each year for a total 450-600 hours of teacher observations. That’s 9-12 weeks of ten-hour days for teacher observations alone. Add on Data Driven Instruction protocols, Common Core Learning Standards, and the time requirements for Student Learning Objectives meetings, bus monitoring, lunch monitoring, teacher meetings, faculty meetings, cabinet meetings, state form completion (BEDS, VADIR, Budget….), cyber bullying issues, parent meetings, student discipline, hall monitoring, assessment scheduling and implementation, curriculum mapping, correspondence, emails, etc, and you have an overwhelmed, overworked, overstressed individual trying to fit a round object into a square hole.

Fortunately, the traditional school leadership model is about to change dramatically thanks to a number of factors, particularly Race to the Top and Teacher Leader Model Standards (TLMS). TLMS began in 2008 by a consortium of bright, well-respected experts and educational stakeholders interested in studying how teacher leadership impacted student and school success. As described on the TLMS website:

Unsurprisingly similar to the ISLLC Standards,  the TLMS describe what teacher leaders can and must do to raise student achievement in our schools. Schools of today are a far cry from those of yesteryear, and the traditions of school leadership we hold dear do not fit today’s model of leadership. What’s necessary is a redistribution of leadership to capable, competent, self-directed, passionate teachers interested in doing what’s best for their students, school and community. We can begin by inviting our finest and brightest educators to a discussion about leadership, and through partnerships with higher education, we can help develop their leadership knowledge and skills. It’s time to start a new tradition and redefine how schools are led.


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