Effective educational leadership is crucial for creating a thriving learning environment that fosters student success. Over the past 25 years, my experiences, along with those of my amazing colleagues past and present, have identified the top 16 keys to success in educational leadership. Today, let’s explore these principles and the first four keys together.
Do what is best for kids.
Educational leaders must prioritize the well-being and success of their students. More than any other key, this is critical and must always be the first priority in making any decision. Whenever the pros and cons of an issue are being looked at, each one should be looked at through the lens of “Is this best for kids?” If the answer is “no,” or “probably not,” then you can save yourself plenty of time by moving on to another line of thought. For example, the issue of later school start times for secondary students is hotly debated, but the science strongly shows physical and mental health benefits to more sleep for teenagers. So this idea passes the “Is this best for kids” test. The accompanying issues must then also be considered through that question. If we establish a later school start time is positive for kids, then we’ll ask the same questions as we explore the impact on after school sports and activities, early morning darker bus stops for elementary students, etc..
Either you run the day or the day runs you.
Effective leaders manage their time wisely. Research by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) found that successful school leaders consistently allocate their time and resources strategically to maximize student achievement. It serves as a powerful reminder that, in order to be effective and successful, individuals must proactively manage their day by setting priorities, creating a plan of action, and staying organized. By doing so, they can prevent the day’s events from dictating their actions and, instead, drive their own agenda. This quote encourages individuals to be intentional with their time, maximizing productivity, and maintaining a sense of purpose and direction in both their professional and personal lives. It also imparts the importance of perspective and attitude. When I taught self contained emotional support at the middle and high school level many years ago, the students who would up being successful had a “victor, not victim” mentality. They believed they can change their circumstances and lives. Students who did not fare as well usually believed that the “world did unto them” and they didn’t have the agency or ability to change their lives for the better.
Build trusting relationships.
Building trusting relationships is an essential element of success, both personally and professionally. Trust serves as the foundation for strong, lasting connections that enable collaboration, open communication, and mutual support. In an educational setting, trusting relationships among staff, students, and parents contribute to a positive learning environment where everyone feels valued and empowered. Trust fosters a sense of psychological safety, allowing individuals to take risks, share ideas, and engage in productive dialogue without fear of judgment or reprisal. Ultimately, cultivating trusting relationships leads to higher levels of engagement, motivation, and achievement, creating a thriving and supportive community that benefits all its members.
Always ask yourself, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”
Leaders should weigh the benefits and costs of their decisions. A study by the Wallace Foundation showed that leaders who carefully consider the impact of their decisions on student outcomes consistently achieve better results. The concept of return on investment (ROI) is crucial in evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of various initiatives or investments. By considering the benefits gained in relation to the resources expended, decision-makers can prioritize projects that yield the greatest impact and align with their goals. An emphasis on ROI promotes strategic planning, prudent resource allocation, and overall financial sustainability, ensuring that individuals and organizations can maintain their growth and success in the long term. A simpler interpretation of this principle also fits the old saying, “Is this really a hill you want to die on.” As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I find that there are less and less “hills” worthy of taking a stand. There’s a ton of bureaucracy and red tape in the education field, but much of it can be completed quickly or perfunctorily. It’s only when true issues arise that either truly benefit students -or- that would truly hurt students where we should choose a hill.
Join me again in two weeks as we look at the next four keys (5-8) to unlocking success!