When I was a public charter school principal my team will tell you I had some horrific habits and a very little discipline. Whatever article I happened to read the week before, that's what the faculty meeting focused on. I would arrive at school each day prepared to observe, coach, lead and implement strategic initiatives. Then, the school day started and I got out of the firehose. The next thing you know cars are lining up for afternoon dismissal and my beautiful list of things to do has not accumulated one check off. I was active, but not productive.
Over time, I got on activity auto-pilot. We were a good school, but not great. It was not until my third year and the second trip to the emergency room that I realized I was the problem and I was doing it ALL wrong. I had an incredible work ethic, but too many faulty assumptions and a lack of discipline in keeping the main thing the main thing.
Everything started to change when I wrote my dissertation on the Characteristics of Effective K-8 Public Charter Schools (I know you've read it).
During this study, I had the privilege to learn from five high-performing leaders who understood the discipline it takes to lead an effective public charter school.
Here is what I learned from them:
What does this mean? It means public charter school leaders know who they are, what they are great at, and choose to be disciplined in their daily thoughts and actions.
Over the last decade as a consultant I have walked slowly through the halls of some of the finest public learning organizations across the country.
Below are eight habits that I have observed the best public charter school leaders in North Carolina.
Habit 1: Communicate with Clarity: Research says it takes approximately 16 communications before stakeholders begin to grasp a leader's vision. High performing school leaders begin every communication with the Why. They clearly communicate who we are as an organization and where we are going (goals) in every stakeholder communication. This communicating with clarity habit builds trust, while brings a common language and alignment to an organization. Note: They are able to do this because they have spent the time visualizing and writing out what perfection would look like. If you have not done this, start there.
Communication Tip: End every communication or meeting with clarifying statements and commitments. Follow up within 24-48 hours to recommunicate and clarify any misunderstandings a team member may have.
Habit #2: Hire Great People: My mentor John Maxwell once told me that you hire people for what they know, you fire them based on who they are.
Because high performing leaders have a clear understanding of who the organization is and where they are going, they understand what people will best serve the school’s needs and culture. These leaders are constantly recruiting, seeking the best people for the organization they lead; even if they do not have openings. They know good people are the variable that determines school success, and they want them all over their school and they never settle for less.
Their hiring process is based on the organization’s core values. They live by the motto, a person's attitude determines their altitude. The law of attraction says you are who you attract. If you are not finding quality people you need to take a look at the organization you lead, starting with yourself.
Hiring Tip: The hiring process should be a team approach and focused on core values. This process should include a full day on campus and a mock lesson. If you can observe them in their teaching environment, even better. It will be hard for them to fake their attitude towards students and colleagues in their home base. Bonus Tip: If you find that you can see the good in everybody, you probably shouldn’t be leading the hiring process. Listen to a Mentorship call I led to learning more about an effective hiring process.
Habit #3: Connect with others: Think of the people in your life that you most value. Why do you value them? Why do you follow them? The answer is simple, relationships.
High performing leaders’ don’t live each day on their agenda. They understand that organizations are built on people, not on programs or products. They take the time to listen and value their people. They take the time to know their people and value what they value.
Connecting Tip: Schedule an informal 1:1 meeting with each of your people at least one time a year. This could be a lunch meeting. Keep the conversation focused on their current and future professional needs and desires. Listen to understand, not reply. Create a plan to help them reach their goals.
Habit #4: Intentionally Develop People: One faulty assumption that I had as a leader was everyone wants to learn and grow as fast as I did and learn about the same things I was interested in learning about. I would share resources with my staff but found out, no one was reading them! Because high-performing school leaders understand it is not programs that build a great school, it is the people, they intentionally develop their people. To do this, they too must have two things: (1) a burning desire to grow, and (2) an understanding of their peoples’ learning styles and interests. Professional development should be align to the school’s initiatives and include time for reflection, follow up coaching and an accountability plan.
Developing Tip: Provide CEU’s to team members’ who read professional literature and either, lead a professional development session for staff or lead book studies for groups of the staff.
Habit #5: Empower People: The key to any leader's success is knowing what they are great at and surrounding themselves with individuals who fill in their areas for growth.
You need to focus your time and energy on what the organization gets the greatest return on. This might be curriculum development or instructional leadership. This means you should not be spending time creating budgets or negotiating copier contracts. However, if you are more of an operations management person, then you should hire and trust someone to be that expert in curriculum development and instructional leadership.
Empowering People Tip: If you do not have these members of your team yet is it your responsibility to teach someone how to complete the necessary task. Leadership expert John Maxwell has a rule. If anyone in the organization can complete a task at an 80% rate as he can, he delegates it.
Here are five simple steps he has taught me to multiply one’s leadership:
Step 1: I do it and you watch me. (Modeling)
Step 2: We do it together. (Collaboration)
Step 3: You do it and I coach you. (Coaching)
Step 4: You do it alone. (Independence)
Step 5: You begin to teach someone else. (Multiplying Leadership)
Habit #6: Set Expectations: I learned as a principal that the only teachers who were reading my emails and memos were the teachers who honestly did not need to. I realized that the policies and rules I was making for staff did nothing but erode my credibility with my best teachers and give other teachers something to complain about. High performing leaders actively seek feedback from your highest performing direct reports so they can make decisions based on their best people. I know what you are thinking if I ask them questions about my performance as a leader won’t I look bad? It’s alright, they already know your strengths and weaknesses. The good news is, they believe in you because you believe in them.
Set Expectations Tip: Prior to establishing any rule first ask these three questions:
What is the true purpose of the implementation of this rule?
Will this rule/policy actually accomplish this?
How will my most positive and productive people feel about it?
Once you have reflected on these three questions and gained feedback from your trusted people, be sure to follow Habits #1 and #3 to effectively reach your goal.
Habit #7: Value Time: How do you feel when someone begins a meeting with, the sooner we get started the sooner we can all get home? It makes me think the information being disseminated cannot be all that important.
Therefore, time must be respected and treated as a precious commodity. Any time you are in front of your staff you should have this in mind, Why are we here? Who is my audience? How do I inspire them to come back tomorrow?
Valuing Time Tips: Prioritize meeting topics based on the plan’s big rocks (start and end on time): Do not discuss anything in a meeting that cannot be handled in a memo or one on one conversation. Remember to follow up on all commitments from the meeting within 24 hours.
Habit #8: Evaluate Their Experiences: My personal and professional career has persevered by a failing forward model. High performing public charter school leaders reflect daily. They do not just add years to their career, they intentionally add learning years to their career. They understand it is costly not to evaluate why something went wrong. This intentional reflection toward the unintended consequences will determine their ultimate growth and ability to lead.
Evaluating your Experiences Tip: Intentionally build time in your schedule to reflect on what went well (schedule daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, annually times). Record in a journal what you have learned, review this journal during your scheduled times. Seek out accountability partners and mentors to help guide you towards deeper reflection.
Call to Action: Reflect on which of these habits you need to address first. Create a plan that includes a goal and accountability partner. If you struggle with this step, either making a plan or keeping to your commitments, we can help you. Sign up for our Goal Achieving Club!
Changing habits is a marathon, not a sprint. Over time, as you make a series of diligently executed decisions, you will experience a breakthrough in your daily practices giving you more time to focus on what matters most – the children you serve.
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