It seems like every conversation that surrounds me lately pertains to building capacity within a school or district. When I am engaged in these conversations I can’t help but think of a sports analogy, when we build capacity within our educational organization it is similar to having a deep, talented bench.  Where the coach can pull numerous players for any position and feel confident in their abilities to bring home the “W”!

As leaders in education we want a deep, talented staff working tirelessly to ensure all students succeed. However, we also want professionals within our organization to push the envelope to try new practices, providing professional development to their colleagues.  We want to develop leaders within our staff so that we have a deep sense of culture and pride. In order to be a leader you don’t need a fancy title, leaders are not leaders due to their job description, they are leaders in how they carry themselves, model for others, and are lifelong learners.

I am deep into a book study for “The Unlearning Leader, Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today” by Michael Lubelfeld and Nick Polyak; in their book they take time throughout each chapter to highlight the 5 Exemplary Practices of Leadership from Kouzes and Posner’s legendary book, “The Leadership Challenge”.  These Mid-Chapter discussions (and the discussions/activities occurring through the book club) have really resonated with me…this is how we build capacity within our schools and districts!! We as leaders, need to be doing these 5 practices of leadership every day and we need to enable our staff to practice these skills so that they have an opportunity to grow and lead for generations to come (the domino effect if you will).

5 Exemplary Practices of Leadership:

1. Model The Way – We all know the saying, “Do as I say not as I do”…..what a horrible saying!!! We need to be doing what we expect of others all the time.  We set the expectations, and need to model them for our staff and colleagues as leaders. “In order to model the way, the leader must first know what they really stand for – then they can model the way while staying true to their core values.” (Lubelfeld, Michael, and Nick Polyak. The Unlearning Leader: Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today. Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.) Research shows that leaders who are admired share similar traits/core values.  What are your core values? Are you staying true to your beliefs when you make decisions and collaborate

2. Inspire a Shared Vision & 3. Challenge the Process – These two practices reminded me of the 2004 Disney movie “Miracle” (I told you I was a huge sports fan).  There was one main clip from this movie that comes to mind as I reflect over inspiring a shared vision and challenging the process, it left me asking, “How do I decide which stakeholders to include in the decision making process?  What do I do when met with opposition to change? How do I inspire a shared vision?” I hope you enjoy and are able to reflect on the questions above as well.

4. Enable others to Act – As a perfectionist I admittedly struggle with this aspect of leadership.  My husband, on the other hand, is excellent at getting others to act and empowering them.  As I was discussing this practice of effective leaders with him, I simply asked, “How do you enable others to act so that you don’t carry the entire burden of leadership on your shoulders?”  His response was simple, “I don’t hold others to standards that I cannot meet myself.” This discussion then got a bit heated as I, defensively, took it to mean that I hold others to standards I don’t reach; but after further dialogue I understood what he meant.  I know I am far from perfect, I make mistakes all the time, so why would I expect others to be perfect? I have to allow for others to fail and learn from their failures so they can do differently next time. Also, I have learned that just because someone doesn’t do a task the way I would do it that doesn’t make it wrong, it works for them.  So perfectionists of the world…take a deep breath with me and know that it is okay for things not to go your way and for errors to occur no error in our line of work is life-ending, we will learn from these mistakes and grow as individuals and leaders from them!

5. Encourage the Heart – Since entering the teaching profession I have had 5 direct supervisors, of these 5 supervisors 3 took the time to connect in a personal and positive way to myself, my family, and my career while the other two did not.  I find it no coincidence that under those 2 supervisors I felt unlead, unsupported, and changed paths in my career due to viewing them as obstacles in my way to success and unable to do what was best for students. As a leader and supervisor I learned from all 5 – what to do and not to do.  As a building principal I spent time talking with each of my staff members about their families, did lunch/recess duties with them (yes, even in the blustery cold days) and wrote them handwritten notes after doing a walk-through and observing excellent teaching! It is these little things that make adults choose to be more productive and loyal. In a career where excellence is expected it is also easily overlooked, don’t overlook talent and dedication, promote it and celebrate it so that it continues!

I hope you find these 5 practices of leadership by Kouzes and Posner beneficial to you as you develop your leadership skills and build capacity within your organization!

Katie Algrim – Director of Innovative Professional Learning

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