Monday, January 18, 2010

Visiting with a Mentor: Time Well Spent

I recently adopted a new mentor, though he may not realize it yet, and I spent the morning with him on Friday. From the outside looking in, some skeptics probably would wonder what I, working with my particular kids and teachers, could learn from him, working with his particular kids and teachers. After all, while our campuses are separated by only several miles, our campuses are worlds apart. Truth be told, though our campuses appear to be worlds apart based on demographics and the socio-economic status of our students' families, our campuses share a common bond: kids. As he said, "Kids are kids. They all want to be respected, to be given direction, and to know someone cares about them.

We spent the better part of the morning talking shop. Mostly I asked him questions and did my best to soak up his wisdom. After discussing a wide variety of topics about administration and leadership, I asked him for his best advice on leading a faculty. I've listed his keys to success below:
  • Find pillars in your teaching community - Identify and build relationships with those on your faculty who you trust and whose opinions you value. Keep them close and lean on them always.
  • Have many small conversations - Management by walking around, in other words. Most business can be conducted in a school setting in a series of small conversations rather than in formal meetings. Additionally, this approach builds and strengthens relationships.
  • Let them (the faculty) see you with your hair down once in a while - Faculty often see their division head, principal or head of school as a robot or machine whose job it is to make decisions and dictate policy. The teachers who are in the trenches every day need to see their leader as a real person who is capable of having fun and being real.
  • When you have the authority, bless them (the faculty) - Because teachers aren't rewarded monetarily to the extent they deserve and because theirs is a profession without much instant gratification and satisfaction, administrators should shower them with blessings whenever appropriate. Breakfast in the teachers' lounge, abbreviated in-service days, sensitivity and understanding about personal issues, baked goods and coffee hand delivered, and covering a teacher's lunch duty are all small but appreciated ways of blessing teachers when possible.

I could list a dozen other nuggets of his wisdom here, and perhaps I will later. The time I spent away from the distractions of my campus may have been some of the most educational and productive time I've invested in my own education since I became an administrator. Seeking out and spending time with a mentor can hardly be considered a new educational leadership strategy but it must be considered one of the most effective. Every educational leader needs someone with more wisdom and experience to provide counsel, guidance or perhaps just a friendly ear on those days when it gets lonely at the top.

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