What’s in Your School Leadership Playbook?

Guest post by Burke Davis

As an avid sports fan and longtime coach, I have learned a lot of lessons from the world of sports, such as the importance of commitment, hard work, and culture. Coaches like Urban Meyer, Jay Wright, Tony Dungy, and Vince Lombardi inspire me to do my best and show me what it takes to build a winning team. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that leaders don’t just happen. Leadership is a skill, and like any skill, we must practice in order to improve our skills and develop as leaders. As an assistant principal at Shelley High School (SHS) in Idaho, I have worked diligently to develop my skills as a leader for the sake of my students and staff.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned about leadership in my time as an educator: 

  • Collaboration is a key element for student achievement, and educators need to work together to be successful. As an administrator, my role is to find ways to help teachers collaborate with one another and also to work together with staff. Our weekly PLC time at SHS helps to accomplish both goals. Another way to promote collaboration is to get into classrooms as an administrator and talk to teachers about what is happening in their classroom.
  • Trust the people around you. It’s a matter of attitude. Assume that other people’s motives are good unless they prove otherwise. If you trust people, you will treat them better; if you treat them better, you and they will be more likely to create collaborative relationships.
  • Improve communication to solve problems. According to author and leadership guru John C. Maxwell, the majority of problems people deal with are a result of poor communication or miscommunication. Maxwell offers three ways to improve:
    1. Be honest and candid: Being candid for a school leader means there are no hidden agendas and there is no sugarcoating.
    2. Be quick: Talk with someone as soon as possible. When I postpone a conversation, I build up more anxiety than if I had just taken care of it right away.
    3. Be inclusive: Talk to many people to gain a better understanding of a situation or issue. Ask questions like “How would you handle this?” or “What do you think about the situation?” More minds are always better than one.
  • Perform with consistency. Great leaders are consistent in the way they handle people and situations. Staff and students alike need predictability from you as an administrator. I always have an open-door policy; teachers and students know they can come to me at any time to discuss issues or get assistance. Staff and students also know that I will remain cool and calm when confronted with situations and issues happening at school. The more consistent you are, the more trust and respect others will have for you.
  • Pay attention to how you play and stop keeping score! In our test-driven school culture, it is easy to get caught up in school rankings and test scores. Though it can be difficult, I have found more success in paying attention to the approach we take with students and learning instead of focusing on the results.
  • Establish a culture of caring. One of the ways we do this is by building relationships with all of our students. I make an effort to know as many students on a first-name basis as possible, which helps to create a friendly environment that is more conducive to learning. One of the things I am most proud of is the results of our school climate survey from last year, which showed that 94 percent of our students feel cared about by at least one adult at our school.
  • Act rather than react. It is inevitable that things are going to go wrong at school sometimes. Though we’d like to control our circumstances to avoid situations and issues, I have learned it is better to control our responses to circumstances. And when I find myself reacting to a situation and emotions are involved, I press the pause button and gather my thoughts before I address a problem or a person.
  • Build up those around you. One thing I have learned in my time in school leadership is that it’s not about me. I am here to serve others and help get the best out of them. Whether it is helping a new teacher gain confidence in the classroom or helping a student through a difficult situation, I work to see the positive in people rather than focus on the negative. I have learned to see others as they could be, not how they are now, which helps them reach their maximum potential.

Do you practice these leadership skills in your daily work? What are the key elements of your leadership playbook?

Burke Davis is assistant principal of Shelley High School in Shelley, ID. Previously, he taught health and social studies and coached football and boys and girls basketball. He was the 2017 Idaho Assistant Principal of the Year.

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