The Reflection Pool

System Leaders with School Responsibilities

web“We need system leaders with school responsibilities.”

This culture building quote comes from Dr. John Malloy, Director of Education for Hamilton-Wentworth. He said it during a meeting with superintendents, principals and vice principals. It resonates strongly with me, because I see it as a shift in thinking for so many school leaders.

Big picture thinking has always intrigued me. As a teacher, I always wanted to know the how and why of pedagogy and decisions that affected my classroom and the school. I also spent some time in union leadership, and the provincial machinations and interplay as well as their effect on schools and individual teachers fascinated me. I didn’t always appreciate or agree with some school and system decisions and went through times where I could feel disillusioned with “the system”. In my various roles as school leader, I came to a deeper understanding of where and how decisions are made within large organizations like school districts.

My interest in why led me to Simon Sinek‘s work. He talks about how leaders inspire action in his book and TEDx talk, which you can find here.  He talks compellingly about how individuals, companies and organizations need to start with “why?”

Why do we exist? What is our purpose?

Every formal and informal leader in our system must understand our larger purpose and the why. We all need something to believe in so we can come together with that shared purpose but without the narrow focus on our own backyard. That translates into system leaders with school responsibilities. When we know the why, we can explain it and inspire others. Every leader must be willing to engage in measured, thoughtful dialogue with educators, parents, school support staff and students about their beliefs and our purpose.

Of course, school leaders have work to do in schools, but it should never be an us vs. them mentality within a district. It’s easy to focus on why your school doesn’t have the latest in gym flooring and others do. Understanding system decisions helps. Yes, the endless email takes way too much time. Marking essays and writing report cards can be a grind. I, too, can get caught up in the operational side of my work, but that will never inspire me.

Have you thought about deeply about why you come to work every day? Do you know your why? Mine is a strong belief in public education within our human society. I also believe in the power of people to make a difference in each other’s lives, both individually and together. I am privileged to be in a position to influence, in some small way, children and youth’s lives.

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments – what do you believe? Are you a system leader with school responsibilities?

3 thoughts on “System Leaders with School Responsibilities

  1. Hi Sue.

    As you suggest, shared purpose and common vision bind us together.

    Embracing this stance as a collective body in any organization will ensure a seamless and coordinated approach.

    The result will be as the proverbial statement promises: we will be so much more than the sum of our individual parts.

    I respectfully submit that equally important in this approach is the committed embrace of dissonance, courageous conversation and open debate so we don’t fall into the historical trap of following a system vision without genuine belief.

    Vision and purpose, if to be shared, must be negotiated and co-constructed through ongoing discourse that often includes turbulence.

    This will ensure a dynamic purpose that adheres to vision while evolving with urgent need.

    We owe our students and their families nothing less.

    1. You are absolutely right! Conversations (where true listening happens by all parties) among educators and families are very important, and even more so when they’re difficult. You’ve really touched on so much of what I believe in your brief comment. I also believe that learning happens through cognitive dissonance. Please feel free to challenge my thinking anytime. My blog is for my personal reflections and also to open to the door to conversations. Thanks!

  2. I keep thinking about these questions near the end of your post:

    “Have you thought about deeply about why you come to work every day? Do you know your why?”

    I wonder what would happen if these questions were asked at the first staff meeting of the school year. What if people wrote down their “why’s,” and shared them, in some way, with each other. There’s a commitment that comes with writing and sharing, and I wonder if the process of doing so might help educators and administrators during those more stressful times of the school year. I think back to tough times/frustrating times last year, and knowing this “why” often helped ground me and give me a different outlook.

    Curious to hear what others have to say!

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