Surely there are more than that? Well, yes perhaps, but I think we can narrow things down and get to the nitty-gritty of what many school leaders share in common.
1. Not a superhero
It might be easier to start off talking about what school leaders aren’t. Well, they don’t see themselves as some sort of saviours or superheroes that sweep in and solve problems. They don’t want their staff to see them this way.
Successful leaders aren’t the “look at me and what I’ve achieved” type. They avoid using mantras, mottos and watchwords. They don’t intimidate their staff. They don’t use staff meetings to change the world or use it as a platform to deliver motivational speeches. They simply get on with the job in hand without the firework display and heroics. They are far more interested in building positive relationships with staff than impressing them. They do like to be visible though and make sure they are everywhere.
You can’t know it all and no one likes a know-it-all anyway but successful heads do know their stuff. That doesn’t mean they tell others how it’s done and what to do because they see every day as a school day. However, they do know plenty of things and they never stop learning and always add to their own professional development. They have their finger on lots of pulses and keep abreast of what’s going on, who’s who and where the noise is coming from.
They are deep-readers of a range of educational literature and they know the background to arguments. Top leaders don’t bluff. If they don’t know something then they will be honest about it. Above all though, they are knowledgeable about their own school. They know its strengths and weaknesses and they know their staff.
Successful heads are confident people that don’t make a habit of doubting themselves. They are good decision-makers and adopt a healthy, quiet confidence and self-belief. They are at ease with themselves and they don’t press the panic button or flap. They avoid false confidence by admitting to their own weaknesses and aren’t afraid to put them on display for others to see.
Being confident and fallible let’s everyone else know that you are never the finished article and its always best to be honest about what you can and can’t do.
Leaders have a clear idea about what they want to do and so have specific goals. They identify something they want to change and pursue it with a dogged determination. This clarity sets them apart. They don’t try and take on too much either. There will always be so much to do and things to change but effective leaders narrow things down and have clear priorities. They look at the context they are in and they look at changing something that will make an impact and create waves of optimism.
Effective leaders stick at it and keep going achieving small victory after small victory. They focus not on difficulties but on possibilities and what can be done not what can’t. They are passionate about what they do and that can mean being bloody-minded. They might have passions but they still manage to apply the same spirit and drive to things they aren’t passionate about. They get things done.
6. Value their staff
They build discretionary effort by building strong and positive relationships with their team. They don’t distance themselves from anyone. They work with staff and create conditions of growth and value so that staff want to go the extra mile rather than walk the other way. They have high expectations but they are realistic and staff buy into them. They get to know their staff, they take an interest, they find out what support they need and they give it.
They often use the word ‘we’ and they let everyone know they are all in it together. They are sensitive to personal issues and family circumstances and they are genuinely interested in their colleagues as people beyond ‘the teacher’. They laugh, joke and share banter but they never gossip. They are professionally involved but on a personal level.
7. They focus on learning
The core business is always what effective leaders have got their eyes on. They know that the most important place in a school is the classroom so they work hard to make this a place where teachers and pupils can excel. They are no strangers to classrooms and will make time to teach and be in the classrooms of their staff – not to observe but to join in and co-teach. They know how demanding classroom teaching is so they don’t lose sight of it by locking themselves away in an office.
Leaders that make a difference do their utmost to ensure that children and staff get the best possible deal the school can offer.