Monday, August 5, 2013

Additional Thoughts on School Leadership: Good to Great

As I mentioned in a post on June 30th, this August I will join the 2013-2015 cohort of the NYSAIS Emerging Leaders Institute. I'm excited for our first retreat at the end of the summer, and have spent the past week reading the second title assigned by George Swain and Marcy Mann, who run the ELI program. I enjoyed (and found relevancy in) Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't much more than I anticipated. The bestselling book by Jim Collins is a case study of successful management strategies, and while he draws his research from the corporate world, Collins's core findings are completely applicable to the work of running a successful school. A few of Collins's basic principles that seem particularly relevant to a school setting:

"Level 5 Leadership":  First and foremost, Collins draws attention to the leadership qualities he observed in studying successful companies. He highlights personal humility, ambition, and diligence, pointing out that successful leaders put the success of the institution, rather than their own personal achievement, at the forefront. Additionally, he emphasizes that "leading from good to great does not mean coming up with the answers and then motivating everyone to follow your messianic vision. It means having the ask the questions that will lead to the best possible answers." (Pg. 75)

"First Who...Then What": A metaphor I found especially compelling: "The executives who ignited the transformations from good to great did not first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there. No, they first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it." (Pg. 41) Indeed, having a strong faculty and administrative team seems like the obvious foundation of a strong school. Working with a team of educators who share the same ultimate vision for a school, and understand that realizing that vision will take time, work and dedication, makes for a energetic and optimistic work atmosphere.

"Technology Accelerators": Anyone currently working in a school knows the pressure and excitement that surrounds incorporating technology into our classrooms and curriculum. We also know how overwhelming and challenging this task can be when we blindly grasp for what's new and trendy. As Collins points out, "The good-to-great companies used technology as an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it...Great companies respond [to technology] with thoughtfulness and creativity..."(Pg. 162) The notion that devices should help us build on the great work we're already doing is something that we discuss with our Tech Department with great frequency, and I was delighted to see the concept validated in Colins's book.