Unlocking the Ten Keys to Affective School Leadership: Part One

Tactics
By: 
Jamie Bricker

This is the latest article in a monthly series on the impact of Affective Leadership in the school system. Affective leadership is all about working with people, rather than trying to work through them or simply going around them. All stakeholders become far more invested in the school, when they feel genuinely valued, respected, and heard by administration. The pandemic has immeasurably heightened this need for connectivity.

 

Last month’s article, The Ten Keys to Affective School Leadership, outlined how principals can best ensure that they are both establishing and constantly nurturing an affective school culture. The essence of affective leadership is all about principals ensuring that all stakeholders genuinely feel valued, respected, and heard.

School leadership is a very exciting, and very challenging, multi-faceted role. There are a wide range of stakeholders connected to the school, and obviously none more important than students, staff, and parents. All of the keys discussed over the next two months apply to all stakeholders, although some keys will clearly be more applicable than others for a given relationship. The bottom line is that focusing on these keys will help affective principals develop stronger working relationships with all parties. Collectively, these focus areas truly are the keys to setting the overall tone of a school.

The February overview of the ten keys was meant to serve as a quick reference guide for school administrators. Over the next two months, these ten keys will be explored in considerably more detail. Both months will include practical suggestions to assist principals in unlocking the essence of these keys within their own school environment. Today’s article will focus on the first five keys: accountability, adaptability, authenticity, clarity, and collaboration. 

 

#1 – ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Principals should spend as much time as possible on the school site. There is an ever-growing list of meetings etc. to pull administrators away from their buildings, but priority must always be given to remaining at school whenever possible. 
  • Principals should fully embrace their fish bowl existence. Rather than deflecting responsibility and/or deferring contentious issues to others, they should make a concerted effort to be a genuine leader. In good times, routinely share the limelight, while in bad times always stand at the head of the line.
  • Principals should get back to all stakeholders in a timely manner. Whether it involves an injured child, a struggling staff member, or an agitated parent, be honest and accessible. You are certainly not expected to have all of the answers, but people need to know that the principal is going to make a concerted effort to find the necessary answers in a timely manner.

 

#2 – ADAPTABILITY

  • Principals should focus on both the establishment of, and adherence to, a clearly defined organizational structure within which all decisions are made. Within this vitally important framework, however, it is equally important for the principal to recognize that many issues will require, and deserve, a certain degree of discretion and flexibility.
  • Principals should respond positively to surprises and unforeseen circumstances. Once again, long-term planning is essential, but school leaders can’t appear surprised or flustered when confronted with the inevitable twists and turns of daily school life.
  • Principals should always make decisions driven by sound logic, not spontaneous emotion. As mentioned, countless unexpected issues will arise, but a leader’s decisions on all matters have to stand the test of time. All decisions need to be seen as part of this aforementioned structure or long-term plan, and not simply as a band-aid hopefully to provide some short-term appeasement.

 

#3 – AUTHENTICITY

  • Principals should make a real effort to get to know each staff member. The principal initiates this reaching out, as quite often seemingly disenfranchised staff have valuable contributions to make when given the opportunity. There must be one large circle of inclusion among the entire staff, as school leaders must be everyone’s professional acquaintance, but no one’s personal friend.
  • Principals should make a conscious effort to develop trust with their staff. People need to know that you are there for them, quite willing to discuss both personal and professional matters, and committed to keeping these conversations confidential.
  • Principals should freely admit their mistakes and take complete ownership of any situations that don’t go as planned. Once people see a leader routinely “passing the buck” it greatly diminishes their opinion of the principal, on both a personal and professional level.  

 

#4 – CLARITY

  • Principals should provide clarity and transparency. Few things are more frustrating for staff than to be confronted by a steady stream of surprises. People need to be kept well informed of any upcoming issues and decisions that will potentially impact them. 
  • Principals should promptly address any misunderstandings with staff, before potential disconnects snowball into something more significant. Factual errors and omissions can generally be quickly addressed with a group e-mail, but more contentious issues require a face-to-face personal touch, as well as an opportunity to answer any lingering questions.
  • Principals should routinely differentiate between material that is important versus that which is urgent. The vast majority of important issues are not particularly time sensitive, and in fact their resolution typically benefits from having more time to discuss, plan, etc.  If every issue is considered to be an emergency, the quality of response suffers and staff confidence in the leader similarly plummets.  

 

#5 – COLLABORATION

  • Principals should be committed to working with staff to establish and continually nurture an air of professional collaboration. The key to team building is the composition of the team, and principals need to actively seek out people with different skills, experiences, and opinions. Teams also need to have a fluid composition, so they aren’t continually dominated by the same views of the same people year after year.
  • Principals should recognize those decisions that clearly must be done individually and/or with input from their superiors. As mentioned, being collaborative on professional matters is very important, but by the same token key issues involving parents and students require a definitive response from the principal. 
  • Principals should focus on steadily building strong relational authority, rather than routinely defaulting to positional authority. In dealing with all stakeholders, the real key is to build sustainable long-term relationships grounded in mutual respect.

This is the latest article in a monthly series on the impact of Affective Leadership in the school system. Affective leadership is all about working with people, rather than trying to work through them or simply going around them.  All stakeholders become far more invested in the school, when they feel genuinely valued, respected, and heard by administration. The pandemic has immeasurably heightened this need for connectivity.

 

About the author

      Jamie Bricker is a published author and international speaker.  As a retired school principal, he has long been a strong advocate of affective leadership and has experienced its profound impact. He is also co-host of two podcasts, including Affective Leadership – Positivity Promotes Productivity. He also blogs weekly on various aspects of affective leadership, and his blogs can be found on LinkedIn.  Jamie can be contacted by email at info@jamiebricker.com or through his website at  www.jamiebricker.com.         

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