6 Lessons I’m Still Learning About Leadership

Today marks 3 months since I took a new position at my school – a new administrative position. I am no expert at leadership, not by a long shot, but here’s a few things I picked up so far. I am writing this post for myself more than anyone because I process best through the written word; however, if it is a help to others, all the better.

1. Define your terms. Eduspeak is only helpful when everyone knows and understands the terminology. Words and phrases like “21st century learning,” “student centered learning,” and “blended learning” are not necessarily common to all. Even when all are using the same terminology, they may be using the words in different ways. Making sure that you’ve defined those terms for yourself is step one; step two is communicating your definition clearly to others. Oh, and step three is listening to how others define those same terms and trying to find a compromise when needed.

2. Know where you’ve been. Vision is great, but a vision that is not connected to where you are at present or a vision without a clear understanding of where you’ve been in the recent past is a vision without legs on which to stand. I am fortunate because my new position is at the same school that I’ve been at for the last 5 years, so I know where my school has been, how we got to the present, and where I hope to see us go. For instance, I understand that my school has only been 1:1 from 6th-12th grade for one year.* Sometimes it feels like longer, but I have to remind myself that it’s only been 1 year – that students, teachers, and parents are still going through a very steep learning curve.

3. Be wiling to see the grey. As a student of history, I have an easy time seeing past black and white to the many shades of grey that make up the real world. My undergraduate and graduate courses taught me well to see an issue from multiple perspectives , to see that one could marshal evidence for nearly any position (within reason). Very little in this world that involves human interaction is black and white, and I actually think it’s beneficial to play devil’s advocate with yourself and others so long as you are willing to make the necessary compromises in the end.

4. Differentiate your leadership. In education, we talk about differentiating instruction to reach all learners. Well, administrators or lead teachers need to differentiate their leadership as well. Not everyone responds to the same style of leadership. For example, I do not respond well to the “boot camp, in-your-face” kind of leadership, but I know others who do. Know your audience and provide leadership for them accordingly.

5. Differentiate your communication. Along with leadership, differentiate your communication. Not everyone needs the same message, and sending a mass communication to everyone when only a handful of people need that particular message is a turnoff. Such messages also have the pitfall of being misunderstood by both the intended and unintended receivers. Take the time and speak more directly to people by differentiating your communication.

6. Practice what you preach. I am so lucky to still be in the classroom so that I can really practice what I am preaching about teaching and learning, and I feel blessed to work in a great department that is constantly trying to be better than they were the day before. Even if you are not in the classroom anymore, you can still do this in other ways…starting with all the other lessons mentioned above.

*In 2011-12, two grades received laptops (7th and 9th); in 2012-13, all grades 6th-12th were given laptops.



  1. Very good! Great insights, Donna.


    David Yohn *Trinity Presbyterian School*

    (334) 213-2150

    [image: cid:5E4F3792-B207-478E-9D29-9AB3758CE73B@elmore.rr.com]****

    *Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.* Phil. 2:3 *2014 Senior Class Verse*

  2. Donna, thanks for the blog. Very insightful. I think the one that really hits home is the cultural awareness piece in #2 “knowing where you been/are.” If one is not in tune with the essential pieces of the culture of the school they are leading, it is extremely difficult to lead. I might differentiate the culture from the current practices, however. There is a real difference between not understanding the culture and understanding the culture but realizing what changes may need to take place based on the school mission and vision. I might also add that it is important to know which leadership style you work best in with regards to #5. Certainly some styles work better than others and some blend better with others. I love John Maxwell’s 5 step progression from the leader based on position all the way up to the leader who is followed based on the person they are. I have a lot of work to do in that area, but the work will be fun if we keep the investment in followers growth at the forefront.

    • Thanks for the comment. I would agree that culture and practices are different, and you are right that I did not distinguish in my post between the two. I would argue that knowing both is equally important. Any good school will constantly be looking forward, looking to improve on itself, looking to fulfill its mission. Therefore, I agree vision is incredibly important, but the pace by which you enact the vision is also of paramount concern. Understanding where a school has been over the last five years thus is critical in determining what pace is the right pace at any given moment, realizing that the pace may increase over time or slow down when necessary.

      To #5, leaders, unfortunately, don’t get to decide who they are communicating with at all times, so they will have to adjust their methods to suit the needs of those being led if they hope to get the “buy in.” It’s the same with teachers talking to students; I communicate differently with some students rather than others regardless of my own personal style because I understand that my student requires a certain kind of communication. If I believe in doing what is in the best interests of the student, it’s not up to me which style of communication I myself prefer.

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