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Ten Great Things Leaders Do (in Education)
Service and Leadership
By Frank Rudnesky, Ed. D.
Life involves a myriad of personal choices, and you can make a conscious decision right now that you are going to be a positive leader by continually fine-tuning the quality of your life through hard work. Or, you can sit back and wait for things to happen by letting other people take the lead and control your destiny. Each of us was put on earth with the ability to make a significant difference in the world around us by accepting our roles as leaders. Unfortunately, most people choose not to, or they do so in a negative way.
Your ability and aptitude as a leader not only depend on your mentors, colleagues, and role models, but correlate to your effort and passion. Just like anything else, the level of your success depends on the amount of hard work you are willing to put forth. If you shoot for mediocrity, you’ll get it every time. Take that underused road to high achievement and service. You’ll be surprised what you and the people around you can accomplish. You have choices; don’t let other people make them for you.
Your leadership success increases exponentially by the number of leaders you create within your organization. Teachers, as well as administrators, must accept their roles as leaders for your school to reach its potential. Then and only then can long-term success be realized. In times of education bashing and dwindling resources, we must acknowledge that our most valuable assets are our human resources and allow our students to build our future in a positive direction in a technological, global society.
1. Raise the Bar
"Expect a lot from yourself or no one else will."
If you don't, who will? You must expect nothing less than your best work. If you are satisfied with a run of the mill school, you will get it every time. Aim for excellence, and you will be surprised what you can accomplish through proper planning, experience, and your own professional development.
For our school, "Raising the Bar" is the prelude to all the great things that leaders do. Granted, everything you do is not off the charts, but your goal should be to create the best. If you are an educator, you see it all the time. Teachers, parents, and students sometimes do "just enough". We are preparing our students for jobs and opportunities that may not yet exist. So it’s up to us to secure our future in a positive way.
By raising the bar for yourself, you raise the bar for everyone. And, professional development will be a common thread that connects all of your best teachers. It carries over into everything you do. High standards and commitment are catchy. Work hard, be successful, have fun.
When it comes to leadership and service, I've seen a lot of school administrators that could "talk the talk" but they do not "walk the talk". They expect the people around them to accomplish results that they are not committed to themselves.
Because we continually "Raise the Bar" at our school, our professional development opportunities led to the creation of a leadership service learning platform each year. This has created opportunities for every stakeholder in our organization.
2. Set Goals
"Without you, the world would not be as productive."
It works! And you might think goal setting is common sense, but most people do not do it. Do you write down your goals? I always had goals, but sometimes they would get away from me, or they would be postponed. Once I started to write them down, my chances of achievement were greatly increased, and I became more successful. Many school leaders do not know where they are going. So, how are they going to get there? More importantly, you need to know where you are. An important component of positive school culture is to develop a vision, mission, and goals.
At our school, we connect monthly character traits to our curriculum. At the beginning of each year, we develop a theme and a service learning platform. This year, our theme was “There’s No Place Like Home.” The possibilities for service and character are limitless. On the first day for staffulty (faculty and staff) we have a picnic, team building activities and a field trip.
This year we invited a former student back to inspire our staffulty on the first day. She was born with cerebral palsy but is someone that has learned to set goals and not make excuses. She talked about her ability to become a leader and overcoming obstacles through goal setting.
When we returned from our scavenger hunt to collect items for the local rescue mission, each staffulty member was given a yellow brick. Everyone was asked to write their goals for the year on the brick. The professional goals went on one side and the personal goals on the other side.
3. Never Ask Anyone To Do Something You Would Not Do
"Positive culture is synonymous with positive leadership."
Some people have positional power, and they are great at designation. Those people hoard the power. A high-ranking position does not make you a leader; it makes you a person in a high-ranking position. Hey, there's enough leadership for everyone. Great leaders share the power through empowerment (that's a later point). Negative leaders always have to be the center of attention or designation.
Great leaders are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Don't be scared to chip in. As principal of our school, I've done just about every job. I have salted icy sidewalks, cleaned up dog poop, washed cafeteria tables, and painted walls. Granted, some people insist my time is mostly effective in other areas, but when you need something done, people are more willing to get it done if they see you getting it done for them. The same rings true in any organization.
I guarantee you that if you don’t mind chipping in to get things done, the next time you need to get something done, you will have volunteers. It should make a difference to you, and it will make a difference to someone else. The people that work with you will notice. In turn, they will help you out when the need arises.
4. Lead by Example
"You can evaluate a person’s character by how well she treats someone she doesn’t know.”           -Rudnesky
I used to hear people say, "Do as I say not as I do." I'm sure someone's dad said that to them at some point, but as a leader, always demonstrate the behavior you want the people around you to emulate. Whether it's your colleagues, students, relatives, or children, be the person you want to see around you.
When I speak to students about leadership, I let them know that not only does everyone have the potential to be a leader, the easiest way to lead is by example. You don’t have to be the captain of the team, the star of the play, or the loudest mouth, but be the person that works the hardest in and out of the classroom. Be the person that does the right thing even when other people are not doing the right thing.
My dad always told me to hustle. Even if you are not the most talented, the coaches will notice. He was right. Coaches always noticed the kids that hustled, and the great coaches used those kids as examples of the doing the right thing. Unfortunately, just as there are adults that never reach their potential, there are students all the time who refuse to reach their potential because they never work hard.
Leadership translates into the same work ethic in the classroom. There are students that work their hardest to achieve a B and there are students who do just what they have to do but achieve an A. What is the difference?
I’ll take the person on my team that might be less talented but works their hardest and always hustles. In the crunch, that person will succeed, and your team will succeed. This same philosophy will help you succeed in all aspects of your life. I will take the person that works hard but achieves less over the person that does not work to their potential but has a higher aptitude. In the long term, the hardest worker will be more successful and so will your organization. Work hard, be successful, have fun.
5. Create a Team
"If people are not connected to your organization, they'll be connected to something else."
As an educator, some of the things you do outside of the classroom translates into the most important strategies inside the classroom. The same types of experiences can ring true for any workplace. After returning from a leadership conference, I heard a resounding theme among my colleagues. Everyone was upbeat, and they had positive comments about the experience. The productivity was attributed to an exciting team-building experience away from our campus.
The yearly theme I mentioned earlier is something we use to further unity in our organization. For the last several years, we introduced a theme that promotes commitment, collegiality, character, hard work, fun, and leadership. It unites our staffulty, and the theme connects our stakeholders. In past years we used Project Rocky, Project Superhero, Project Idol: In Search of Leaders and Legends, Team Belhaven, and Back to the Future: Keep Your Future on Track.
            Our teachers’ success stories are a compilation of unsung heroes that promotes the next generation of our nation’s heroes. I have witnessed commitment to an organization (our school) because of collegial trust for common goals by a cohesive team. No one wants to let their “buddies” down because they are in the trenches of education every day. Together, our positive possibilities are unlimited. We owe our future to our teachers through our children. Be part of a team! A collegial environment promotes synergy. People will come together if your place promotes one another.
6. Think Outside the Box
-John Lennon
Education is one of the few careers where we are allowed to be as creative as we want. No one will ever come to you and say. "Stop being so creative." If they do, get a job in a different school. Those teachers that inspired me always took creative risks. Most importantly, they encouraged me to take creative risks. This same philosophy should be encouraged in all organizations. You should be empowered (next section), and you should empower the people around you to promote imagination. You can inspire a new generation by doing the same thing.
The problem with thinking outside the box is that you create a new box. Then you have to think outside of that box. Then you create a new box, and so on, and so on until you just throw the box away. This is a great concept! Thinking outside the box is what we must do as educators. Thinking outside the box is what you must do in your organization. Thinking outside the box is what we must do as leaders.
            Great thinking catches on, too. In our school no one wants to be left behind. When we see someone thinking outside the box, we want to be a part of it. This creates great ideas and synergy. It creates great opportunities for leadership and great opportunities for our students. When you create this mentality in your organization, new boxes will be created. New opportunities will be created for the people connected to you.
7. Empower
"Encourage others to be leaders."
Empowerment can make quantum leaps in anyone's ability to be a leader. Many people cannot share power especially if they are in an authoritative position. Positional leadership does not readily translate into anyone's ability to lead. Rather it is a position that can be abused or mishandled by many.
Take a look in any classroom or board room. Does the teacher or other executive allow the students or participants to become facilitators? If they do, chances are the other people are engaged, and they are taken to higher levels of learning and leading. So, share the wealth. Share the power.
Some people are under the impression that there can only be one leader in the classroom, the building, the business, the school, the district. I guaranty you those schools or organizations operate at lower capacity than those organizations that understand the value of creating leaders through empowerment.
If you are an administrator, you need to use your human resources to their full potential. Go out to the classrooms and see what is taking place in all areas. Follow up these visits with authentic conversation.
In the classroom, let your students become active learners rather than passive listeners. Do not discourage their input. Allow your students to be facilitators for other students in the acquisition of skills. This will create an environment of engagement.
The same rings true in any organization. When people are stymied because of disempowerment, then only a few feel connected. Conversely, people feel unimportant when they are not allowed to be creative through leadership. Do not let the “U-Boat Captains” disempower you. A U-Boat captain is someone that shoots down every new idea because it’s not theirs or it may take a little work.
8. Have Integrity
"Your measure of character is what you say or do when no one is looking."
What would you say was the number one effective quality of a leader? Integrity should be near the top of your list. We all go through experiences that change the way we look at the world. Unfortunately, our children do not have the experiences or sometimes the skills to deal with difficult situations where and when great character is essential. It is up to the adults in their lives to relay the experiences younger people need to reach their potential.
The same concept may be true with the younger workers in your organization. As educators, every decision we make must be in the best interest of the students. This means sacrifice, and sometimes it may seem like we do it at the expense of adults, but I guarantee you in the long run it pays off. It pays off exponentially because integrity is passed on to everyone that accepts his or her role as a leader.
Take a look at the people around you. Who do you trust? Most likely the people you trust have the utmost integrity. Likewise, they are the same people that build character into their lessons. They are the same people that do the right things day in and day out. If you think being an educator is easy, then you aren’t an educator, or you are not a very good one. If you think being a parent is easy, then you aren’t a parent or a very good one.
9. Treat People Better Than You Want To Be Treated
"Do not allow other people to take away your voice. Your recourse should never be to remain anonymous.” – Rudnesky
I like to feel good. Who doesn't like to feel good? What makes you feel good? A lot of what makes you feel good makes others feel good, too unless you are one of those miserable people that never should have gotten out of bed this morning. I made up my mind when I accepted the job as a teacher that I was going to be the kind of teacher I wanted as a student. When I became a principal, I made up my mind I was going to be the kind of principal that I wanted when I was a student, when I was a teacher, and when I was a vice principal.
Under an anonymous name, a group of eighth grade girls emailed me at the end of the school year. They said they did not want to divulge their names for fear of retribution. They were trying to relay their perception of our leadership process, and how it excluded some kids. I encouraged them to come see me, and they did.
That’s how I wrote the quote at the beginning of this section. People are sometimes stymied by what they perceive whether it is true or not. When we sat down and brainstormed, the girls realized that rarely was a student left out. We even found ways to include some students before they went home for the summer break.
10. Have Fun
"Inspire them, and they will learn."
-Belhaven Middle School Staffulty
This has to be one of my personal favorites because I have worked in places that were fun, and I've worked in places that were no fun. I have experienced learning that was fun and learning that was painfully boring. I think we all have experienced both. I can guarantee you this: If you are having fun where you work and learn, you will be more anxious to get there. You might even be more reluctant to leave. You will be more loyal, and you will go above and beyond what is expected. Collegiality and engagement will flow like clear, cool mountain spring water.
When I became principal, I promised myself that I would do my fair share to make learning fun and to make working in our building fun. As mentioned in the previous section, one thing we changed was our faculty meetings. Instead of just teachers, we invite everyone, (faculty and staff) staffulty. Not everyone is required to come, but they are always prepared for a surprise.
In the beginning of each meeting, we announce the “staffulty” of the month nominated by anyone that works in our organization. One award that stands out in my mind is the selection of a first year fifth grade science teacher. He is talented, energetic, passionate, and an eco-minded surfer dude. One reason he was hired was for his enthusiasm.
When his name was called, he proudly jumped up and announced, “You haven’t seen anything yet!” He was right. He has made our school a positive outlet for students and staffulty alike through his passion, hard work, and commitment. Whether it is Science Idol, an environmental video, or a leadership event, creativity and fun flow from his persona. His excitement is as contagious as his laugh. I cannot imagine working without people like him.
An authentic zest for life and leadership can be felt everywhere. We have free ice cream Fridays in the cafeteria. Dress down days on payday, salad bar signups, and bagel receptions. We even had FREE chair massages for the holidays but nothing is accomplished without commitment and hard work.
Your leadership ability is dependent on a lot of factors, mainly, your effort. If you accept your role as a leader and you work hard to make yourself better, then the people around you will take your lead. More importantly, your organization will get better. Most importantly, our children will become leaders, and they are 100% of our future. Please do not ever forget that.
You do not have to define a leadership moment by being on the verge of a disaster. You do not have to invent a wonder drug or rally your team to a Super Bowl victory. You do not even have to climb the highest mountain peak in the world during adverse conditions to experience greatness. You may not have to solve any of the world’s major problems, but you can be on the cusp of inspiring the next generation of great leaders that will contribute to the aforementioned events. Some things are easy like doing the right thing and setting examples through service but everything takes a commitment to planning and hard work. It’s not always easy but why should it be?
When you work together to create an environment where everyone feels connected, the real winners are all the stakeholders, and in a school it includes the kids at the forefront! So go out and make a differencein the world around you but first, start with yourself!
Chickenship or Eagleship, you decide!
(“I never ate eagle wings for dinner.” - Rudnesky)
From the book 50 Great Things Leaders Do: Let's Get Fired Up!
Rudnesky, Frank. 50 Great Things Leaders Do: Let's Get Fired Up!, 2007
Frank Rudnesky is the principal of the Belhaven Middle School in Linwood, NJ. Frank and his colleagues are staples at local, state, and national conferences as they continue to present their research and programs. Belhaven is often used as a visitation site for other educators.
Last Updated: 8/10/11
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