I may be wrong, and I often am, but I sense the ground shifting. Consider---Race to The Top ending, NCLB still not reauthorized, Common Core facing stiff opposition, the APPR apparatus in place but failing to bring systemic improvement, education funding still constrained, the era of activist federal and state policymaking apparently concluding, at least for the moment, and leadership from the top in very short supply.
If you have followed my columns over the years, you know that I am a staunch advocate for field leaders. I have watched with dismay as USDOE and NYSED sought to micromanage schools and in the process turn local leaders into their clerks. Now, out of ideas, energy and funding, they have left a leadership vacuum which someone must fill since the needs of our children and our society have never been greater. I believe that field leaders now have greater latitude to lead—and to make a difference. I hope that you also sense the swing of the pendulum and will rise to the challenges and opportunities which are presenting themselves. As you do, I pass along a few tips:
1. Comply with mandates but save sufficient leadership energy to address the actual needs in your schools which you can see but which Albany and Washington can’t.
2. Avoid acronyms (i.e. CCSS, APPR, DDI, RtI, DASA, DCIP, SCIP). Have you ever noticed that opposition mounts when programs are capitalized? Don’t call the programs anything; just do them.
3. Set priorities. Keep asking yourself, “Of all the things I could be doing, what should I be doing?” For effectiveness, get control of your time. Remember that everything is related but not everything is relevant.
4. Creatively swipe everything you can from research and from other schools. Everyone is working on the same issues. Leadership isn’t about having original ideas; it’s about finding good ideas and then fashioning them for your local environment.
5. Despite state directives to the contrary, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Effective field leaders know there is a finite amount of organizational energy. Don’t dissipate it by overwhelming your system with three dozen change efforts implemented simultaneously and badly.
6. Use your common sense. If something from above doesn’t seem to make sense, it probably doesn’t. Michael Fullan commented years ago, “I have come to a frightening conclusion that, at any given time, no one in the system knows what’s going on.”
7. Don’t declare victory prematurely. Success doesn’t come from adopting or even implementing a program. Your effort must go deep enough and last long enough to make a real difference.
8. Success comes from reculturing, not restructuring. Moving boxes on the organizational chart, altering schedules or modifying procedures might be necessary but they are not sufficient. It’s really about winning hearts and minds and securing real commitment.
9. Trust is organizational glue. Leaders earn and keep the trust of others by consistently demonstrating integrity. With trust and transparency, almost anything is possible, even in the absence of other resources.
10. Your job is not to move test scores. It is to maximize the potential of all members of your school community---students and adults alike. Period.
These are the times when leaders would wish to live. Seize the opportunity and make a difference.