Simon Sinek once said, “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” As we thought about trying to articulate what attributes comprise a dynamo school leader, it began to feel a little like trying to eat bouillabaisse with a fork. Education is not an exact science: the qualities that are needed in teaching personnel will vary somewhat, depending on the specific objectives and needs of a school. But after hearing from some leading educators and doing some research into the topic, we came up with the following top characteristics of a strong school leader. These characteristics are generally the ones that diligent administrators will seek when looking for new teachers, and the ones that they will try to develop and improve in the veteran teaching force.
- Moral Purpose. In our opinion, the best school leaders have a strong sense of moral purpose. The desire to provide the best teachers, technology, and overall experience for all children is something that should drive every principal or administrator. We don’t know many educator powerhouses who don’t have that in their DNA.
- Setting the Bar High. Strong school leaders have consistent, high expectations and are very ambitious for the success of their students. They have complete regard for the progress and personal development of every pupil. At the same time, they focus relentlessly on improving teaching and learning with effective professional growth opportunities for all staff. They expect both the students and educators in their schools to be learning, and they expect the same of themselves. Always a student!
- It Takes a Village. They are highly inclusive and develop individual students by promoting rich opportunities for learning both in and out of the classroom. They cultivate a range of partnerships, particularly with parents, business, and the community, to support pupil learning and progress. The best leaders know that they need a great team.
- Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. They are robust and rigorous with respect to self-evaluation and data analysis, and they have clear strategies for improvement. Strong leaders are also experts at assessment and promote the tracking of student progress with appropriate support and intervention, based upon a detailed knowledge of individual pupils. They understand that you don’t know where you need to improve without finding the areas that may need more focus or a different approach.
- 20/20 Vision. We’ve all heard the term "visionary leadership" used in reference to a school or district administrator. But how do you know if a leader is a visionary? Researchers often state that a visionary leader is clear about what he or she believes and knows is best. In this case, we believe they mean what’s best for children -- for their academic, social, and emotional learning. A visionary leader talks and walks the school's vision. Their actions consistently align with it. Furthermore, they have a plan for implementing this vision, and take action every day to lead all stakeholders towards this vision. The vision is consistently acted upon, all initiatives align to it, and the principal is its primary champion.
- Collaborator Extraordinaire. The willingness to collaborate is a sure sign of strong school leaders. They intuitively know that they cannot implement the school's vision by going it alone, and work hard to get everyone focused on the same mission with enthusiasm and passion. They know that high-functioning teams are essential. They know that a healthy community (for children and staff) will contribute to stability, retention, and greater outcomes. You'll know whether you're entering an environment of well-being by the way you’re greeted when you arrive on campus. Notice the security guards, office staff, children, and parents. Just register how many smiling faces you see.
- EQ = Successful. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and recognize, understand, and manage the emotions of others. Interestingly, having a school leader with emotional intelligence has been found to be the number one predictor of that organization's ability to be successful. Here’s to having bushels of insight!
- Quality Matters. Almost every educator would agree that teacher quality is the most important factor in determining school quality. But what factors determine teacher quality? There are countless lists, but we think the article from Education World on admirable teaching traits hits the mark. It originally appeared in Teaching for Excellence, a monthly newsletter designed to provide schools with a convenient and inexpensive method of staff development. Each issue focuses on a specific, relevant education topic and attempts to "bridge the gap between research and practice" by offering clear information and practical ideas about that topic.
Each School Leader Is a Unique Individual. Of course, the list of traits will not be the same for every school leader. Many will display all of these characteristics, but some traits will be more apparent than others. Still others will add their own different, admirable characteristics. While this list seems to cover a set of core qualities, please let us know if we missed anything!
Want to connect with other educators? Check out the MimioConnect® online educator community, where you can meet other inspiring leaders and share ideas.