Great Leaders = Great Chefs
Have you ever watched The Food Network? All those bubbly personalities on there must have the same basic quotient to get their own show: be a great chef. Whether we like them or not doesn’t really matter. The people on there must be great enough to push beyond the current status quo and really make a statement. Leadership is exactly like that. Too often, I see mediocre leaders in charge of our schools. In today’s world, good just isn’t good enough anymore. We must have great teachers, great communities and great leaders if our children are to succeed.
What Good Looks Like
So what’s wrong with our current leadership? You know that answer as well as I do. We see it every day roaming the hallways. Administrators who don’t have a clue what’s going on in the classroom. Leaders who are in their positions because of the years they’ve put in as teachers. Supervisors who jump on the bandwagon of the “next big thing”. Or, maybe my favorite, facilitators who are nice but so disorganized that they can’t tie their shoes much less run a building. Come on! We deserve better! Our students definitely deserve better! And it’s time we get to the business of giving better. These people that I just described are intelligent, good-hearted and kind individuals. I like them as people. And they can be good at their jobs. But good isn’t good enough. We must go from good to great if we expect any results from our student improvement efforts.
From Good to Great
Let’s play a game. Close your eyes and imagine what your dream administrator would be like. Intelligent, good-hearted and kind are already in the mix. Look beyond their personality – what else? Here’s my list of utopia:
You can’t get this job done if you’re not an organized person. Make a to-do list, get a planner, something! Get your life in order. Randy Pausch of “The Last Lecture” fame insisted that our most effective people are those that have things organized. And he’s right. Organization saves time, energy, and resources. It allows people to do what they need in a calm, methodical way, rather than disheveled and helter-skelter. So if you need a day planner, a digital planner, and an alarm clock to keep you organized – do it. People will thank you.
2.) Have a Vision.
A leader can’t lead if you don’t know where you’re going. You MUST take the time to create a vision for your school. Make it a joint venture with your staff, students and community so that everyone has ownership. Really take the time to dream about where you want to go and what tools you’ll need to get there. And then put that plan into action! There is nothing better than a leader with a clear vision that fits the needs of the school community and who puts that vision into action every single day. It is possibly the single most vital quality of all great leaders. Granted, this takes a tremendous amount of time. But the rewards are the best you’ll ever experience.
3.) Get Out There!
It is absolutely essential that you know what is happening in your building. I’m not talking about micromanaging. We all know that doesn’t work and it’s bad for culture. However, give yourself some time every day to get out of your office and walk around the building. If you’ve never done it, people will look at you funny and be a bit nervous the first time you walk into their room. That’s okay – just let them know you’re just watching and they’ll eventually forget that you’re there. I once saw a great representation about this very issue. Teachers are formally observed 2-4 times per year (if you’re lucky). These same teachers teach approximately 900 lessons over the course of a year. If you’re only seeing 2-4 of them, you’re seeing less than .04% of the time they teach. You can’t possibly have a good pulse on your teachers or your student achievement if that’s what you’re doing. So pencil in 15, 30, 60 minutes a day every day into your planner to get out there. You’ll be glad that you did.
4.) It’s the Culture – Yes, Really.
Culture is everything in a school. It’s the iceberg that you never see – the ice underneath is what will sink you every time if you’re not careful. This is the step that takes the longest to do, but has some of the most tremendous impact. That’s because it’s all about people. If you build a culture of trust, responsibility, professional development, honoring and providing time, understanding, and high expectations, you will have a staff and students that thrive. Obviously, that’s a long list and you’ll definitely run into roadblocks. But hold steady. Be consistent and don’t waiver – the culture will soon become embedded within your school.
Get Rid of the Recipe
My husband is a fabulous chef, at least in my opinion. I can cook very well if I have a recipe I like in front of me. I’m exact with all of the measurements and most of my food turns out well. But when my husband cook’s the flavors are amazing and it just tastes….better. I asked him once what his secret is and he told me to “get rid of the recipe”. He explained that when you deviate from the recipe and make your own version, the passion, skills and fortitude of the chef come out in the flavor of the food. The same is true in leadership. Deviate from the “standard” plan of being a leader. Put in your passion, apply your skills, and use your fortitude and great leadership will be the end result.
Susan Riley is the founder and President of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.