You can lead by empowering others

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is ​a retired educator in Ottawa area. He has a keen interest in promoting technology as a progressive learning tool among the students in his school. ​Paul is active on Twitter (@mcguirp) and blogs on all sorts of topics, including climbing (climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in April​), mental health, politics, a wide variety of education topics and anything else that comes to mind. His blog is called 'Whole Hearted', taken from the author and researcher Brené Brown, whom he admires greatly.​ Paul loves writing for Innovate My School and connecting to other writers and educators whenever possible.

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Image credit: Flickr // Olaf Gradin. Image credit: Flickr // Olaf Gradin.

What do you want to achieve as a school leader? What traits will you focus on?” For me, when considering the traits that foster good leadership, you need to start by really considering the people you work with. I saw this quote on Dr. Marcia Tate’s Twitter feed yesterday, and I think it says it all. Good leadership needs to have an outward focus where we as school leaders are always looking to empower and encourage others.

You can look at this several ways. First, empowering others will get you great results. As the quote points out, those who feel appreciated are going to do a better job. They are going to work knowing that someone has their back and what they do matters.

On a more fundamental level, empowering others deepens their own experience and helps to make what they do more meaningful. Leaders really only have the power that others give them and by encouraging and really trusting those you work with you are creating an atmosphere where everyone believes in the work that is going on in the community.

I think it is important to point out that this is not an easy thing to do, and it can take some time. Creating a culture of empowerment means that the leader has to give up a good deal of control and let people try things out. This can be risky, “The more that leaders try to control, less actually gets done.”and some leaders may not feel comfortable giving away their control. After all, isn’t this why they were chosen to be a leader in the first place? To lead from the front and make sure everything aligns with what the school group / local authority / district sees as important?

This is certainly as aspect of leadership, but there is so much more that can be accomplished if we open up to see the potential that comes from empowering others.

The opposite of empowering leadership is micromanagement. We have all worked for people like this. The paradox is interesting. The more that leaders try to control who they work with, less actually gets done. People with overbearing leaders simply try to survive in their own little corner, dreaming of the day when this phase passes.

Here is my simple challenge for the school leader: Look for ways each day to empower the ones you work with. Try to create an atmosphere where people really believe that they are working on a collective endeavour.

This may take some time, and you will have to be creative in how you approach this challenge, but why not do this? Creating a culture of empowerment can eventually spread to the students and families in your school community.

What would happen at a school if every parent, student and teacher really felt like they had a voice and they were all a part of a great collective endeavour?

So, where do we go from here? What are some practical ways you as a school leader begin to empower others?

I thought about this for awhile, and I think the first thing you should do is work on becoming more mindful. Try listening to Pema Chodron. You can find lots of her books on Audible. She has a great deal to say about developing loving kindness - an essential characteristic to nurture if you are really going to empower others. As you become more mindful it will become easier to think of others first.

From here, look for ways to share decision-making power in your school. At my last school, we put out the agenda on Google Docs a week ahead of time. I would put in a few items, but the idea was that any staff member could add agenda items to the Doc “Kindness is an essential characteristic for empowering others.”and together, we would have a staff meeting where everyone’s concerns could be addressed. This took awhile to take off, but eventually we had some really rich discussions at our staff meetings.

We also co-wrote our parent blog. I would always start things off, then most of the teachers would add in what they were planning to do for the upcoming week. This made the blog a really valuable resource for parents and a great way for teachers to feature what they were doing each week in the classroom.

Here is an excerpt from the kindergarten section:

Kindergarten Blog for December 19-23, 2016
Our last blog post of 2016! It is hard to believe that we have been in school for 4 months already!
We hope to enjoy our last week together by creating wonderful Christmas crafts, attending a school-wide assembly on Wednesday and our Fourth Advent Liturgy on Thursday. We are singing ‘Take a Walk to Christmas’ in our classrooms and hope to sing for other classes too! Our walk to the mailbox to mail our Santa letters was a huge success. Santa even made a surprise visit the next day to let us know he got all of our letters! What a great surprise! We also took advantage of the great snow and the K1 group went snowshoeing!

Featuring teacher’s work is a great way to empower them and give them a voice.

These are three practical things you can do to empower others. There are many other ways to do this - just think of your staff first, and the ideas will come.

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