Finding Focus

As a leader, there are so many different things that pull you in all sorts of directions from the paperwork that is required to the custodian that needs to talk to you about a situation in the bathroom to a parent who wants to talk to you …. the list goes on. As learners, we have so many different options open to us, if we take the time to look, that it can be the same thing from a new idea for teaching reading to struggling students to different leadership paradigms to different classroom management strategies to all sorts of technology options …. again, it doesn’t end.  This is where, as a leader, the ability to focus is vitally important.

In the article Ten Big Ideas for School Principals, Mike McCarthy gives 10 things that principals should remember. All 10 points are very important but #2 really struck me. Having been in 7 different schools, the one thing I noticed was that, although some of the previous principals has some key slogans/acronyms that they referred to, there was a lack of focus on school vision/mission. Not that I did any better at the start but, as time went on, I began to realize that without a clear focus that all of could focus upon, people would end up doing their own thing. This might be okay if they were following the same focus as the rest of the people in the building but that didn’t always happen.

I really saw the power of having that key focus a Code of Conduct was developed in one of the schools where I was principal. Because all major stakeholders: teachers, parents and students were involved in the process and had input into the code and input into what was expected from students, it gave everyone a focus. By actually removing myself from the process and allowing others to lead and develop this, I was able to watch and learn through my observations what was important to the various people involved. Then, whenever a situation arose, it was easier to use the Code of Conduct as a starting place for discussions, a focus for what we were doing.

Like Mike McCarthy, I believe it is imperative for a school to have a Vision statement and Mission statement and to have both displayed in prominent places and be part of all the major discussions about what is happening in the school. They will focus the discussions, decisions and interactions. As a school leader, these will also help you to maybe make some decisions about where you need to focus your attention – help you to sift the “urgent but less-important” from the “less-urgent but extremely important” and it may allow you to give others the opportunity to lead in different ways.

As for your own learning, these two statements may help you to choose where you will focus your attention. The “mile wide but inch deep” approach to learning doesn’t provide any real lasting benefits nor does it provide you with the deep learning required to lead whereas a focus on one or two significant areas where you can learn and lead allows you to demonstrate the importance of learning. My advice here is to find something that ignites your passion and then surround yourself with other people who have other passions that are all supporting the vision and mission. And if you don’t have the luxury to hire people, then lead others to find their passions and share them and allow them to lead – it may be the first time someone has done that for them. The passion of learning is contagious, part of a leaders role is to demonstrate and part is to help others to find/ignite theirs and become leading learners – teachers, students and parents can all become leading learners if you, as the leader, are willing  to guide toward the school vision and mission – the focus.

This year I will begin in a new school yet again. There are so many things that are changing and so many unknowns that, with 2 weeks left until the students enter the two buildings, I could go crazy. Fortunately, before the last school year ended, I was able to meet with the two staffs, which will become one later in the year, to create a school vision and mission. So, as I prepare for the upcoming year, I have keep these two things upfront. I’m really not doing a lot right now but what I am doing I make sure that I maintain a focus.

My Own Learning/Leading

As for my own learning and leading, I use to take the “mile wide, inch deep” approach, reading books on various topics. Yes, I knew about a many things but I wasn’t really fully confident to “lead” so, this summer, I decided that I needed to take a break and then, as school drew near, to pick one or two and really focus on them so that I could lead staff, students and parents. I know that there are other teachers who will have strengths and be able to lead in other areas and, although I will need to understand the concepts and theories, there are other “leaders” in the building who will be able to assist and lead. This way, I’ll be able to ensure that principle #1 from Ten Big Ideas for School Principals – the school must be for all kids 100 percent of the time – can be a reality.

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