This year marks the 20th anniversary since I attended my first NASSP principals conference. I still recall the excitement I felt. As a young administrator, I could hardly wait to get to the conference to learn from some of the best minds in educational leadership.
Even after 20 years, I can honestly say I am as excited today about attending this year’s first-ever joint National Principals Conference as I was back then. The difference is this time I come not only as an attendee ready to learn, but as a presenter who hopes to share a few lessons I’ve learned after serving as a school administrator for 22 years.
Over the years, I have been blessed to work with and be mentored by some of the best leaders in our profession. The issues we contend with are too complex to figure out in isolation, which is why I continue to return year after year.
The Biggest Issue Facing Public Education Today
A few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of a conversation with several school administrators during a workshop that I was conducting on the topic of school leadership. At one point during the presentation, I posed the following question: “What do you believe to be the biggest issue facing us today in public education that has resulted in many of our schools being labeled as low performing?” The question elicited several interesting responses, including:
- Standardized testing
- State and federal mandates
- Lack of funding, resources
- Teacher evaluation system/accountability
- Micro-managing school boards
- Teacher turnover/shortage
- Poor parenting
- Mental health issues
I wasn’t surprised. Quite frankly, the answers I get generally follow a similar pattern, with standardized testing and state and federal mandates leading the way and funding shortages following closely behind. However, I don’t believe any items from the list are our biggest pitfalls. Undoubtedly, it is not uncommon for us in management or supervisory roles to begin to look for external reasons for poor student or teacher performance. After all, one of the hardest places to look when things aren’t going as well as we hoped is internally, especially if it means examining our own influence or harder yet, our own skill sets. When it comes to measuring the culture and climate of our schools and success of our students and staff, there really is only one place to look when we fall short:
Our own ability to lead effectively.
Ineffective leadership, in my opinion, is the biggest issue facing public education. Last week, I was involved in a Twitter exchange where I stated that no one went into teaching to be average and those who were had simply lost their way. I then followed this statement with the comment that great leaders can inspire them back to greatness. Over the years, I have watched talented individuals excel at high levels and listened to some genuine people who inspired me and motivated me to be more than I ever thought I could be. Yes, ultimately it was up to me to take these words and initiate my own action, but I also know my desire to move forward in an attempt to push myself toward excellence was ignited by the words or actions of these individuals.
There are a plethora of issues facing us in education today that can burden us and, in some cases, even cause us to remain stagnant or, worse yet, blame others for our lack of success. I recognize that being an effective leader is not simply about being able to inspire others through words or actions. Nothing is that simple, especially when it comes to leadership.
But didn’t we become educators because we wanted to model the qualities, characteristics, and skill sets of those whom we considered to be great leaders? Perhaps it is those same leaders who have played an integral part in inspiring students and staff alike in classrooms, school buildings, and districts everywhere? I am going to believe we did and this being the case, I think we are on the right path to addressing our ineffectiveness as leaders and removing ourselves from the conversation of the biggest issues facing us in public education today.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing us today in public education?
Jimmy Casas recently completed his 22nd year in education leadership. He is the co-founder and CEO of ConnectEDD, an educational leadership company aimed at organizing world-class professional learning conferences and professional development services for educators across the country. Previously a principal at Bettendorf High School in Bettendorf, IA, for 14 years, Jimmy was named the 2012 Iowa Secondary Principal of the Year. In 2013, he was one of three finalists for NASSP’s National Principal of the Year. Jimmy also currently serves on the Professional Development Faculty for NASSP.