Eduporium Weekly | School Leadership in the 21st Century
To create a truly 21st century, future-facing school that will leave no doubt in preparing students for the future, a lot has to go right. What happens in the classroom is key, but what takes place behind the scenes that leads to these classroom conditions is perhaps even more important. Teachers get a lot of the credit (and rightfully so) for molding Future Ready students, but it’s oftentimes the administrators who work tirelessly to provide teachers with whatever they need to help students excel. The right leadership approach, style, and team can go a long way in creating an innovative school and has an invaluable effect on preparing children for the future.
What it Means to Have Future Ready Leadership
The education system at the heart of our country over the last few decades has undergone a major overhaul, but, in some cases, needs to continue evolving. The world is changing and today’s students need to be part of education that’s as innovative as the real world continues to be. Nowadays, everybody has their own idea of what true innovation in schools should include - technology, hands-on learning, flipped classrooms, and collaboration are generally near the top of those lists. While accurate, those are all classroom factors that go into creating the conditions for optimizing student educational experiences. In order to create a truly Future Ready school, however, that school needs truly Future Ready leadership.
There is not currently a concrete answer to the question of what it takes to ensure our schools are always moving forward though many of the best school leaders try to find it every single day. School leaders do know, however, that real change starts with them. It starts with them dedicating themselves to dynamic, systemic change in their classrooms. Principals and their faculty members need to be willing to embrace the successful 21st century learning trends and have the wisdom to know which ones to avoid. Whether it’s giving personalized learning a shot or preaching to students the importance of inquiry and creativity, they can’t remain stagnant. Some approaches may fail, but that’s part of learning. The important thing is having the willingness to try something new - even if it means you might fail - and convincing each teacher to join you on the road to innovation.
It’s not hard for school leaders to get learn of ideas for new and innovative things to try in their schools. All they need to do is turn on the news, scroll through a teaching blog, or have a conversation with their peers. There are a million different innovations happening in schools across the world and each one has been enabled by a principal who saw its potential for enriching the futures of their students. Many of these things can be implemented quickly, including personalized learning, collaborative classes, enhanced classroom connectivity, and digital transformation. While cost may be a factor, principals should also know about the innovative companies (like Eduporium!) who specialize in providing the tools to get students ready and make it affordable for schools. Creating a Future Ready school is not that difficult if you know where to start and, thankfully, with the guidance of Future Ready leaders, the students in that school are already gifted with an important advantage.
Educational Leadership Styles School Leaders Should Know
What we want and what kids deserve from their school leaders are really just a common set of previously acknowledged traits and abilities. Many of these traits are actually similar to what we expect from our political leaders or ethical leaders as the ability to foster strong leadership is not limited to one sector of modern life. Many characteristics can be cultivated to mold a great leader, but it’s how school leaders combine them in the interests of their students that has a profound impact on the school. When we think of core leadership skills, we gravitate towards self-awareness, understanding the importance of clear communication, building a better community, having a willingness to collaborate, and always staying open to new ideas. That’s what we want in our political leaders and that’s what we should demand from school leaders as well.
Everybody’s leadership style will be unique to themselves, their students, or their school community. In the education space, however, there are certain things that school leaders should strive to accomplish to create an ideal learning environment for this day and age. School and student needs change with increasing regularity, so leaders need to stay up-to-date on current education and technology trends and learn to be adaptive in their decision making. On top of that, school leaders should be authoritative and willing to step up and declare a new vision or direction for their school community. School leaders also work effectively when they are affiliative, meaning that they constantly try to build and improve their relationships, which creates harmony as members of the community begin to feel a stronger connection.
The best school leaders, while also having the will to make decisions quickly, must also be democratic and hear the opinion’s of all faculty members. This means that while the school leaders usually will make the final decisions, they should be completely open to ideas from everybody else along the way. Taking the time to carefully hear these ideas also creates opportunities for coaching, which is another key characteristic of today’s best educational leaders. Especially in the 21st century, educational leaders can use their experience to help prepare both students and teachers for the future. Hearing advice from someone who has been there before has a deep impact on people whether they realize it or not and is something that constitutes a strong leader. Finally, school leaders should remember to always keep their students at the center of their innovative vision, design programs that help them excel, and leverage all available resources to help prepare them for life in the 21st century.
Creating Empowered Leaders in Your School
Within their individual schools, teachers have become used to one person being the “expert” on a particular topic and relying on that person to create goals and assign tasks. In most cases, this leader is the principal. While these leaders always do an admirable job, there’s no rule saying that they have to be the only voices of action within the school community. Modern schools are made up of faculty that includes teachers, librarians, tech directors, and other specialists, who all have the same amount of ingenuity as their principal. The best leaders are the ones who create more leaders out of the people around them. At their peak, principals will pass their leadership skills on to their faculty and do so in a way that makes them feel empowered. So, how can they make that happen?
The biggest thing principals can do to help create other school leaders is to help them realize their influence potential. Being a leader is about constantly encouraging and, if necessary, pushing fellow educators to continue moving forward. Providing an exceptional 21st century education for students requires that teachers never stop moving forward. By encouraging teachers to pick one particular thing and get really good at it, principals can create a wealth of new leaders in no time. Then, principals should encourage their newly-created leaders to share their wisdom. When teachers have the opportunity and the confidence to share how their leadership styles have created deeper learning opportunities for their students, others will start to take notice and try to raise the bar even higher.
One other way for school leaders to create additional school leaders is to commit to a consistent plan to sustain all the wonderful things being done in each classroom. School leaders aren’t just made one day and then given that status for life. They must sustain their excellence in order to exemplify the traits of a great leader. To be a truly great leader, leadership must become the norm and not just pulled out when the school really needs it. Leading by example shows the rest of the teachers in the school the importance of being at their best for their students by creating innovative 21st century learning environments. Teachers owe it to themselves, to their students, and to their administrators to embrace the leadership role and come out on the other side with an unending optimism for what hard work and commitment can help them accomplish.
Sparking Ed Reform with Innovative Leadership
These days, we constantly hear about “ed reform this” and “ed reform that,” but nobody really stops to think why educators and parents keep talking about this subject until they’re blue in the face. All we know is that it continues to be debated year after year while schools try somewhat futilely to chase a dream that they may not ever be able to reach. In order to bring about true education reform on a sustainable scale, we need determined, passionate, and innovative leaders to be willing to do what they have to in order to create a future-facing school. If there is one thing we can agree on when it comes to ed reform, can it be the fact that it will never truly happen without balanced, thoughtful, and bold school leaders?
To spark legitimate school change, teachers must become leaders and principals must become leaders of leaders. In the ideal model, teachers would be seen as inventors and principals would be seen as the ones who create the conditions for their teachers and students to thrive. When they get teachers on board the leadership train, principals are able to extend the reach and impact of their own leadership and create educators who are not afraid to give their students the education they deserve. Principals can accomplish so much more by being an active part of their teachers’ development than they would be able to do by stepping back and letting teachers try to innovate on their own. Teachers should, however, be able to make their own decisions ultimately and have control in their individual classrooms, but principals need to be willing to provide them with the resources and conditions in order for them and their students to excel.
If principals build leaders out of their teachers, but then drift apart, the teachers could outgrow their role and want to move on to a different school for a bigger and better challenge. That’s why the continuous partnership among school leaders is increasingly important for sustaining education reform. The principals who get the best and the most out of their teacher leaders are those who are willing to work with them side by side for years - rather than months - at a time. By setting the tone for reform within the school, principals are able to create clear goals and clear roles based on the needs of their students. During this reform process, principals should also make regular time for teacher collaboration, encourage teachers to try new things, and, above all else, remember to simply be a leader - not a dictator.
How to Be a Digital Leader in Today’s Schools
By this point, you probably have a pretty good idea of a lot of the attributes necessary to be a successful school leader in this day and age. We haven’t talked too much about leadership and technology, however, so we’ll do that now if you don’t mind. You already know that being a great school leader requires providing students with the necessary tools to excel and build real-world skills. And, you already know that today that means technology. To be the best leader in a school or district, it’s incredibly important to have an open mind when it comes to innovation. Since the overall goal of school leaders is to enhance student engagement, classroom results, and real-world readiness, leaders must be willing to incorporate technology since it’s integral in achieving these results in the modern classroom.
To be an effective leader, school principals need to remember that leadership roles are not about having and wielding power. It’s not about the titles or the position either. School leadership is about the actions principals take and how they influence the rest of their staff in a positive way. This is especially important when principals are trying to convince a whole school full of teachers to join in on the path toward digital innovation. It takes a lot of wisdom to be a great school leader, but in today’s times with the complexity of student personalities and the different technologies available, it takes just a bit more. It’s knowing the difference between complaining about kids being too swept up in distracting technology and finding ways to help them learn with meaningful technology.
To combine school and digital leadership into an effective endeavor, principals should start by focusing on student learning and engagement and creating the right learning environment. This means that they must do the research and procure technologies that advance learning at all grade levels and help teachers create favorable classroom designs for their students. After that, school leaders - principal or not - need to always be looking out for professional learning opportunities whether that’s attending conferences, brainstorming while walking down the hallway, or leveraging social media by joining educator chats to stay up to date on the latest trends. School leaders must also encourage communication between them and their teachers as well as among all teachers in the school and include students to get their feedback too if they are willing. After that, school leaders can promote their digital success by publicizing the results of their digital leadership and initiatives, creating a new school brand with an updated digital mission, and continue looking for additional opportunities to innovate and create students who one day will become leaders themselves.
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