My journey into public charter schools, and learning about the characteristics of effective schools, began in 2008 when I was an Exceptional Children’s teacher. I later became the director of a rural charter middle school in Brunswick County at Charter Day School. It was during this time that my “leadership lid” was lifted as I spent time in five high performing K-8 public charter schools in North Carolina during my dissertation study, The Characteristics of Effective K-8 Charter Schools in North Carolina. The leaders and community stakeholders from the schools that I served as a Principal, have helped shape my understanding of what makes an effective school. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, this week is National School Choice Week. As we celebrate National School Choice Week, let’s also discuss five characteristics of effective charter schools.
Leading a team is by far the most important skill a leader needs to master if they desire to be more successful. Over the past 24 years, I have participated in an annual Thanksgiving tradition, a two-hand touch football game called the Turkey Bowl. Over this almost quarter of a century, I have learned seven key leadership lessons about building a team, leading a team, and navigating through challenges. Here are my takeaways:
1. Draft Talent and Get Out of Their Way: As a leader, you will only be as successful as the collective skills and talents of the people you surround yourself with. There is no sense in recruiting and hiring talented people if you are going to micromanage them out of their gift zones and passion. Your main job is to build their capacity, place them into positions of success, and remove any barriers. If you are not finding the talent you need to achieve the organization’s goals, you need to take a look in the mirror.
There are only two ways to...
On a walk last summer, I crossed a bridge built over a slow-moving creek and spied a snake slipping through the water. As a mother of three boys, I instinctively wanted to point it out to them and start guessing what kind of snake it was. Alas, my teenage boys were at work or gymnastics practice. They were missing out on my moment with the snake, and I wanted to share this sighting. Just up the path, I saw a dad with two toddler sons coming my way. I was thrilled to have someone to share this moment with.
When the dad was within earshot, I said, “Your boys might like to see the snake in the water back there.” The man looked right past me and kept walking. I carried on toward my house, not bothering to repeat myself. However, in just a few steps, I heard the dad say, “Hey boys! There’s that snake the nice lady told us about.” The boys squealed, and I smiled, knowing that I’d opened up their world just a little bit that day.
I want to tell a story that illustrates a problem that hinders many school leaders. Recently, I was coaching a principal, and he was sharing the difficulty he was having finding effective teachers to help turnaround the urban school he led. This school was a magnet, restart model district school that had a great vision, but he struggled to recruit and employ effective teachers. He also noted that he was also struggling with balancing his time so that he could support and coach his current staff, many of whom are within their first three years in the profession. Despite additional county resources and strategic partnerships awarded to his school, he noted how tight the budget was and expressed concern about having very little wiggle room. I asked him, “Well, what would you do if you had a $100,000 to work with?”
He paused to think for 30 seconds and said, “I would definitely hire some teachers to focus on interventions.”
I replied, “I want to make sure I...
I fail daily. If you want to be successful, you must not only be willing to fail, you must be intentional about how to learn from your failures. Sociologist Alvin Toffle said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
For over a decade I was deep into a gambling addiction and lost well over $100,000 on a teacher salary. I spent every opportunity I could thinking about gambling, scheming my way to feeding my addiction. I went bankrupt at 24 and lost trust and credibility with those I loved most. Over 99.9% of the world’s population would have quit after bankruptcy, but I pushed on for five more years! So what was truly impeding my progress? The answer seems simple now. I certainly had character and accountability problems, but really it came down to my inability to learn from my failures.
The choices we make, make us and...
In John Maxwell’s 15 Laws of Invaluable Growth, he stresses the idea that in order to make significant change, consistency has to be one of the main ingredients. He concluded that “Motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing.”
Many times in life we jump into a project, diet or other life-changing program with incredible determination and drive. But, after 5-10 days we find that it is more difficult than anticipated and we allow our previous habits to win out and overwhelm our new found passion. What was the problem? Was it that we tried to do too much, too soon? Was it the program’s fault? Poor teaching? Genetics? I believe it was that we have a difficult time following the Law of Consistency.
Jim Collins, best-selling author of Good to Great, defines a breakthrough as a series of good decisions, diligently executed, that accumulate overtime. To make significant changes on your life takes patience and a process. Researchers...
Leading through change is what separates the good from the great. Right now, thousands of school leaders across the nation are saying, “I cannot wait until next year. Next year will be different.”
My question to them is, “How do you know?”
When leading through change, it is all right for leaders to be uncertain about their process to get there, but it is not all right for leaders to be unclear about their overall vision. It is in time of change when people need their leaders the most. When people lack hope, the leader needs to provide hope. When people lack answers, the leader needs to have a vision and clearly communicate that vision.
A time of uncertainty is the hardest time to lead. Most people tend to freeze when the future is uncertain; unfortunately, this is when many leaders decide to take a step back rather than being at the forefront. When I was a principal, in times of change or adversity, I did not want to have to answer everyone’s questions...
As a public charter school coach and consultant the question I get most often is, how do we keep our board meetings on track? The answer is the pretty simple. Focus on what is most important. I have learned the hard way, as a consultant and a board chair that if you do not prepare on the front end you will be repairing on the back end. One of the keys to facilitating a purposeful board meeting begins with the setting of an effective board agenda.
The agenda is a collaborative process set by the head of the school and the board chair.
The development of the next months agenda begins at the end of the previous board meeting. At At the close of the meeting the board chair should:
Can you squeeze another administrator out of your budget?
Next year’s budget is probably already weighing heavily on your mind. If you are a charter school in its first few years, you are probably expecting higher enrollment, and therefore, will need more teachers as well. But one question that is not so easy to answer, and has a big impact is: How many administrators is the right number for your school?
At first glance, I am sure that everyone out there is thinking – Well, we could use more than we have! There is no doubt that the school administrators you have are worked to their maximum capacity already. I can’t think of a school out there that didn’t wish they had just one more AP, just one more Dean, just one more Curriculum Specialist. We have to balance that idea with a budget that leads to the financial solvency of the school, and the administrators are most likely the highest paid members of your staff. They might even be paid...