Welcome back, ACE! For many of us, the fall semester comes with a new level of school leadership – thanks to that new degree or teaching endorsement.
It only makes sense. After all, you’ve worked hard to get where you are, and your administrators recognize that. Still, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t use a few tips. Whether you’re a grade chair, department head, mentor teacher or serving in another leadership capacity, these practices can help set you toward the path of effective leadership this school year and beyond.
Be a Leader with a Regular Presence
One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from a teacher-leader in my own life is the power of being available. This isn’t to say the best leaders are on-call 24/7; rather, it means consistently giving your team access to you at predictable, regular times. For her, this time was at the end of the school day, once students had left and afternoon work began.
Every day, without fail, she would walk by each of our classrooms and say, “I’m headed out. Anything I can do for you?” Of course, this is a dangerous question to ask for anyone trying to get out the door, but it was her routine and she was committed to it. No matter what our grade level needed, this was her time to support us or otherwise plan to help us as soon as possible.
Whether your “time” is before school, while on recess duty or during your planning period, being regularly available for those you’re supporting builds others’ confidence in you as a leader.
Set Norms as a Leader
Of course, no teacher-leader can do it all and trying to do so can leave you feeling burned out. Part of effective leadership is learning to set appropriate boundaries that empower those around you but don’t leave you feeling depleted at the end of the day.
One way to effectively establish professional boundaries is through the development of norms. Norms are a set of agreed-upon expectations that help processes and teams move forward with one purpose. For example, the norm, “We speak with one voice, but respect individual opinions” encourages unity and safety when communicating as a team. Whether you are leading staff meetings or just a grade level team, norms can help you establish boundaries that prevent unnecessary frustration and burnout.
Find Your Ray of Sunshine
Without a doubt, the demands of a teaching career are high and serving in a leadership role only multiplies them. But that doesn’t mean that your approach needs to be all business all the time. Find your “ray of sunshine” that brings light and joy to your interactions with those you support.
Maybe you’re the social studies chair who always brings candy to collaborative planning, or the PTA officer who is known for starting every meeting off with a meme. Perhaps you keep the grade level refrigerator stocked with (the good) coffee creamer, or you leave notes of encouragement in your mentee’s mailbox. Whatever your style, find ways to regularly remind yourself and others that teaching, and leading, is a joy to be shared.
Understand Your Role as a Leader
My first year in school leadership, I struggled to define my role as the team’s grade chair and quickly felt the pressure to be everything to everyone. After several exhausting weeks, I scheduled a meeting with my administrator, grade level mentor teachers and instructional coach to define our individual roles and responsibilities clearly.
I’m so glad I did! For the first time, I learned to say, “This is a question for _________. Do you know how to get in touch with him/her?” and preserved my sanity in the process. The best leaders are also the best delegaters, so don’t be afraid to “stay in your lane” and encourage your team to ask others for help, too.
So forge ahead confidently, leader! While there are no perfect leaders, you have what it takes to be a great one.