George Couros recently wrote an article entitled, 4 types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be, which got me to thinking about my role as a vice-principal and what type of leader I wanted to be. It’s easy to say don’t do this, or don’t do that, but what, exactly does a leader do in a school? I like to use the term leader and not leadership role, because they are two very different aspects of leadership in a school. One is almost immediately recognized when you enter a building, the other is simply a title on a door. One is seen it actions and the other is simply a PILP (person in leadership position).
My leadership title is Vice-Principal and judging by my door window, a lover of Star Wars (or at least the dark side) and Math (or symbols of irrational numbers describing the relationship between the circumference and area of a circle). I would like to think, though, that I have been a leader in almost every school I have worked, in some capacity, whether it be a curriculum leader, a social leader, or a leader for my students’ learning. But this isn’t about those small acts of leadership that occur by everyone, everyday in a school. Some of that leadership can be negative (you can’t do that, because we’ve never done it that way) or positive (what if we put on intramurals for our students). I’d like to focus on the leadership that I do in my school that creates the environment for teachers to do what they do best.
In my role, I feel that my job is more along the lines of the servant leader, a style of leadership described by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970’s. That is not to say a servant, but a servant leader. One that is described with characteristics of empathy and support around the community organisation. It is about serving the organisation as people, not the organisation as institutional structure.
George Couros described four types of leaders: “Blame Everyone Else”; “Driven by Policy”; “Dead-End”; and “Lack of Knowledge is Power”. These types of ‘leaders’ would not follow Daniel Pink’s conception of how to move organisations forward. They fall more into the category of position first, not people.
I see my role as one that removes obstacles that prevent teachers from doing their job. I fix overhead projectors, find cords and laptops and light bulbs. I make sure that rooms are booked, students are ready to learn, and resources are available. Sometimes, however, I am unable to get some of those obstacles out of the way. They persist in the school like the leaking pipes or the issues around heating (it’s either too hot or too cold).
But there is another layer in my role and that is educational leadership. This is different from the servant leadership model, where I support and remove barriers for teachers. As an educational leader, my first priority is to keep learning. I need to connect to other educators via twitter, edcamps, blogs, GHO’s, and Google +. Interesting articles are shared, conversations are had, all in an intentional way to keep educational conversations going to improve the learning conditions for our students.
Although I may not always get the chance to do everything I want around educational leadership (leaking pipes get in the way), I try to infuse it into every conversations. For example, if the school has some rooms too hot and some too cold, I may liken the whole school to some assessment practices (on average, every room is just right). But that only works if I can fix the temperature issues, or else it sounds like I am avoiding the problems.
I may never get the balance between educational leader and servant leader quite right. But that’s okay, because it means I am always learning. And if I stopped learning, I hope I have the power to stop leading.