Monday, July 1, 2013

Six Important Traits of a Leader

The past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to add several administrative tasks to my regular teaching assignment. These added tasks have ranged from completing our district's No Child Left Behind grant and writing our Professional Development Plan to Leading our Teacher Evaluation Committee and Leading Professional Development on the following items: AchieveNJ, SGOs, SGPs and PARRC. This additional work has provided me with a lot of great opportunities to learn about the administrative side of schools. I am confident that this work will give me a solid foundation when the opportunity arises to be the Lead Learner of my own school.

In addition to these opportunities, I have learned a lot from the following authors: Todd Whitaker, Thomas Guskey, Robert Marzano and Will Richardson. Through my readings and experiences, I have noticed six common behaviors/characteristics of an effective leader. I am taking a different approach in this post, because I am going to attempt to show how these characteristics changed me professionally.

Lead Learner: Without a doubt, this is an important skill for a school's leader. This person must always be looking for new trends in education to share with his or her staff. He or she must model the behavior to be followed by the staff and students. My journey started with setting up a Personal Learning Network. I have created a Twitter account that has connected me with a lot of very intelligent and innovative people. I have started sharing these connections with my colleagues, hoping to share the impact this social medium has had on my learning.

Enthusiastic: This is a trait that ebbs and flows during the year. But, as the leader, it is important that this is modeled everyday. Enthusiasm is highly contagious. Your staff will look to you for the pick-me-up they need during those down times of the year. A leader that senses this and can do it effectively will keep the morale high all year long. Personally, this trait was critical when I started guiding my colleagues through several changes over the past couple of years: a new teacher evaluation model, Student Growth Objectives, Student Growth Percentiles and PAARC. I intentionally developed training sessions that were different (but informative) to keep a positive environment. I knew these changes were going to be tough, but I presented it in a way that was upbeat and positive.

Active Listener: We are all busy. We are constantly trying to juggle several things at one time. But, I have learned the hard way that not actively listening to a colleague creates more problems in the end. I have really tried to stop whatever I am doing and listen to whomever comes into my room to speak to me. Do not get me wrong, I still need a lot of work in this area, but I am working hard at improving. Not only does a Leader need to hear what is said, but he or she needs to hear what is not being said. An effective leader needs to be highly skilled at "hearing" things even when no one is speaking. The ability to read body language and facial expressions allows a leader to take stock of how the atmosphere in the builind is, and handle things accordingly.

Dedicated: As mentioned above, we are all busy. In addition, there are endless state mandates and programs that need implementation. Let us not forget about handling phone calls, meetings, emails and discipline problems. Nonetheless, an effective Leader must be dedicated to their vision for the school. Are we on the right track? Are we still providing our students with a rigorous and challenging curriculum? Are we offering this in a safe and friendly environment? State mandates and programs are important, but an effective Leader finds a way to blend these changes into the current school climate. Personally, I worked very hard this year finding creative ways of blending all of the changes facing my colleagues into small, bite sized sessions. I found this was the best way to keep them focused througout the meeting.

Empathetic: Education is always moving a hundred miles an hour. Our days are stuffed from beginning to end. That is why sometimes an effective Leader has to know when to take his or her foot off of the gas pedal. Give people a break sometimes. I experienced this early in my career when my Principal sensed a lesson was not going well. Two thirds of my class did not do their homework. As a result, the activities I had planned were fumbling along, to say the least. Thanks goodness, my Principal put herself in my shoes and left a note on my desk that simply read, "I'll be back tomorrow for your observation." I have always remembered that event through my career. I would have run through a wall for her after that day. I am glad, however, she never did ask.

Resourceful: The leader of a 21st century school has a lot on his or her plate. The leader is usually bombarded with a great number of questions/requests. Where do you direct them? What information do you provide them? The 21st century Leader's job, very much like his or her teachers, is not necessarily to have all of the answers, but to know what roads/avenues to take to get them. What better way to do that than by an ever-expanding PLN. This is one area that has saved me tremendously the last year. Because of the great people in my PLN, I have been able to reach out and get answers or suggestions to a variety questions/problems. I am constantly forwarding my colleagues these very helpful resources. Now, if I can just get them to start blogging and joining Twitter...

I have been teaching for 18 years. I have had the unique opportunity of adding several administrator roles over the last few years. I am also an aspiring Administrator. I have spent the past year working very hard at expanding my PLN. Please follow me on Twitter @jcordery. Also, he link address to my blog is
Did I forget any important traits or qualities that start with these letters? Please share your ideas...


Timothy Kasper said...

Jim- You demonstrate a lot of great insight here. What you state is applicable to many, many positions in school as well as business. You've obviously done a good deal of reflection. Kudos to you and you journey.

Jim Cordery said...

Thanks, Tim. I am working with someone on possibly being a guest blogger for an educational website. I am glad you liked it. I still find the process a little nerve-wracking, but I am improving each time. Thanks again for sharing.