When I first became interested in school leadership, I attended a Pastoral Leadership Conference where I met John Maxwell. Maxwell provided a new perspective of leadership to my existing knowledge. My interpretation of Maxwell’s inspiration is to empower others to become great leaders. This interpretation forms the basis for my overall theme for this blog – Be the leader you want to lead you!
Lesson 1: Inspire Others and Build Capacity
When I reflect on my first aspirations into school leadership, I think about what or who made me want to become a school leader. I have only worked for two principals during my teaching career and both played a major role in my decision to pursue school leadership. During my year of teaching, my principal consistently told me she saw something great in me and that I would have my own school one day. As a first year teacher from a business background, with absolutely no experience teaching, I never paid her any attention because that was not what I wanted. I only began teaching to get a little experience in a classroom setting before working on a collegiate level. For the six years I worked for her as a second grade teacher, she continued to give me leadership opportunities on the campus and encouraged me to be better than I thought I was. I left that school district to pursue a different path in education, but my new principal saw the same thing my last principal saw in me before I saw it. She provided me with more leadership opportunities and brought me in on decisions she had to make while explaining to me her process in making the decisions. This was huge to me and really gave me the confirmation of my purpose. I want to be led by someone who sees my potential before I do and provide me with opportunities to allow me to meet and exceed my potential. I treat my teachers and staff based on how I was called to leadership. I constantly tell my staff, “Every day is an interview”, meaning you never know what job you are applying for by your daily agenda and work habits. As a school leader most of my day is processing decisions in my head before they reach the early phase of simply being communicated to other stakeholders. I like to be proactive and look for potential placements, programs, and possibilities. Just as teachers need to know their students to effectively teach them, we as leaders need to know our teachers to effectively lead them. We need to be close enough to relate to them, but far away enough to lead them. We cannot distance ourselves from the classroom and forget how hard it is to teach and what it takes daily to influence students. We have to keep that relationship with teachers close enough to be able to motivate them and to be their biggest cheerleader. Maxwell states, “The growth and development of a leader is the highest calling of a leader”.
Lesson 2: Lead by Example
A leader without a vison is like a car with no wheels; you won’t get very far. Any successful leader led with and was able to communicate his/her vision. According to Maxwell, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision”. I have experienced this greatly in my first years in leadership. For my first year as principal, a few teachers bought into my vision from my communication of the vision and from what they knew about me in general. It wasn’t until my third year, that I began to see a stronger investment into my vision from my stakeholders. It took proving myself to my staff and getting them to buy into me first. I feel a large contribution of this buy-in was due to me leading by example. I am the first on campus and many days the last to leave the campus. I expect my staff to be on time so I am always on time. I report to duty every morning and afternoon as well as during lunch. I teach lessons, watch classes for teachers, work weekends with teachers, change trashcan liners, serve food in the cafeteria, and eat with teachers/staff. I even performed my first dance in front of an audience for my staff and students. I spend about 15% of my day in my office. As a leader, you have to be visible and relevant to your staff. Be approachable and positive. We all know the saying, “When momma ain’t happy, nobody happy”; well that same saying applies to the school principal. As a school leader, we set the tone for the school. To want a positive staff who has fun with the students, we as leaders have to be positive and fun to work with first. I want a leader who is out here with me in the trenches and not afraid to get his/her hands dirty. As a school leader, we have to be humble and serve in the same trenches we are leading.
Lesson 3: Iron Sharpens Iron
School leadership is an ongoing process of growth and no matter how many district meetings or national conferences we attend, we will not ever know it all. This does not stop us from trying to maximize our knowledge base and extend our potential. As leaders, we have to surround ourselves with those smarter than us to continue being challenged and explore different perspectives. Along my journey into leadership, there are friends that I see less of now and some I hardly see at all due to a difference in our interest and priorities. There is no bad blood between us, just a difference in our goals. When people have similar goals, they tend to travel similar paths. For example, this blog is a result of a relationship with Dr. Ziegler that was formed through a network of administrators from across the country. I have never contributed to a blog before but through this relationship, I was given the opportunity to share my experiences. While this does require us to change our “crowd” we associate with, it also can create a distance between you and those close to you. It can be lonely at the top, which is why we as leaders have to continue leading by example to inspire growth and build capacity among those we serve.
By being the leader you want to be led by, you are ensuring your vision and inspiration will continue to spread by those you lead. A servant leader has a vision and will always relate back to that vison when making decisions for students and staff.
Dr. Darrell Webb - Dr. Darrell Webb is currently the principal of Turner Elementary in Caddo Parish School District in Shreveport, LA. Turner Elementary is a Title 1 school with over 1,100 students enrolled. In August 2018, Turner Elementary will transition to Turner Elementary Middle School and plans to enroll over 1,500 students. Prior to his role as a principal, Darrell served as a second grade teacher for six years at Sunset Acres Elementary School, a third grade teacher at Mansfield Elementary School, and an assistant principal for one year at University Elementary School. In 2011, Darrell received his doctoral degree from Grambling State University in Education Leadership. He has a loving wife of 12 years, a handsome 9-year old son, and beautiful 5-year old daughter. He is a native of Shreveport, LA where he currently resides. Darrell also coaches his children’s baseball, basketball, and soccer teams throughout the year.
Follow Darrell on Twitter at @docwebb1911 and his school at @tigerpride2017