Friday, July 30, 2010

Effective Leadership Course - The Journey So Far

I am in week 3 of the Effective Leadership course for the Johns Hopkins University/ISTE certificate program.  People kept telling me about the level of rigor, and I am now a true believer.

How has what you have learned so far in this course shaped your concept of an effective leader?

The first week of the class, the readings seemed to present an effective school leader as a superhero.  According to Kelley and Peterson (2007),
[Principals] must set goals and develop plans; build budgets and hire personnel; lead the organization of structures and coordinate time use; evaluate staff and assess student learning...organize improvement efforts and develop processes for working with clients, customers, and community; and understand and reinforce positive cultures. (p. 358)

Oh, is that all? 

It seems that in many cases, we look at successful leaders and attempt to duplicate what they do, but we can’t duplicate who they are.  I do not feel that I am a “born leader.”  I am envious of people with that seemingly effortless charisma that causes people to flock to them. I recognize that I lack that “it-factor” and will have to make up for it with hard work.   While there was definitely a “leaders are born, not made” component in some of our readings, I was comforted by the fact that there are specific characteristics that I DO have (see previous post), and can strengthen or develop.

Based on what you have learned so far, what are the top 3-5 characteristics you believe a successful principal must possess?

A study called "Teachers' Perceptions of Principals' Attributes," by Mike Richardson, Ken Lane and Jackson Flanigan surveyed thousands of teachers to find out what they looked for in a leader (cited in Stronge, 1996).   The top four characteristics according to those teachers were honest, competent, forward-looking, and inspirational, and can be used to summarize the clusters of attributes/behaviors that have appeared again and again in our leadership study so far.  

Honesty can be grouped with integrity and ethics.  A leader must “walk the talk” or lose all credibility.  Also, being up front about weaknesses can ensure that those weaknesses are addressed.

Competence can be defined as knowledge about education, including curriculum, instructional methods, and school organization, along with the ability to apply that knowledge.  Teachers are unlikely to respect a leader who is not an accomplished educator or is perceived to be unable to “get the job done.”

The importance of vision (being forward-looking) has come up again and again.  With the demands of the job, a principal has to be able to see beyond the small (or large) crisis of the day to an overall purpose.  This higher purpose is necessary to foster motivation and hope, both in oneself and in faculty/staff: 

“[Teachers] need to be reminded that they are connected to a larger purpose and to others who are struggling to make progress. Articulating and discussing hope when the going gets rough re-energizes teachers, reduces stress, and can point to new directions.”  (Fullan, 2010).

Inspiration” can mean different things to different people, from fostering new ideas to giving someone “warm fuzzy feelings.”  For the type of inspiration I am talking about here, imagine th school as a literal ship, of which the principal is the captain.  The captain may have a destination (vision) and know how to set a course toward it (competence), but that does not do any good if the captain is the only person on the boat. Inspiration is being able to get others to join the “crew.”  The first three attributes will go a long way toward inspiring others to get on board, but inspiration takes direct and distinct effort in and of itself.


Fullan, M. (n.d.). Leadership for the 21st Century: Breaking the Bonds of Dependency. Center for Development and Learning. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from

Kelley, C., & Peterson, K. (2006). The Work of Principals and Their Preparation. The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (2 ed., pp. 351-401). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Strong, J. (1998). Leadership Skills in School and Business. School Administrator, Oct. Retrieved July 20, 2010, from;col1

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