How Strong Instructional Leaders Can Bring Out the Best in Educators

Great leaders and managers recognize the importance of maximizing their resources, including recruiting and retaining the right people for their organizations. In the book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman state, “Select a person, set expectations, motivate the person, and develop the person. These four activities are the manager’s most important responsibilities.” The authors speak to what great managers do and don’t do, including treating every employee as an individual, focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses, and finding ways to measure, count, and reward outcomes.

For instructional leaders in schools, dioceses, and districts, there are important points to consider and think about when selecting for talent, defining appropriate outcomes, focusing on strengths, and finding the right fit.

Find and hire the talent, with the word talent, being defined as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.”
The emphasis in the book is on the word “recurring.” We know that individuals have habits and organizations have rituals and traditions. The collective habits become the culture of the organization, which controls behavior. Managers and leaders need to pay attention to the recurring patterns and habits that impact culture. Talents can be focused, recognized, and developed into performance by great managers. We know from experience that it is people—not program—that make the difference. In education as with other businesses, we need to hire well and then provide ongoing and differentiated opportunities for professional learning and growth. It boils down to this: hire the right people and provide the right training and support to develop and deepen their expertise.

Create a safety net where people can take risks and grow within a trial period.
This trial period is designed to benefit both parties while providing accountability and transparency. Trial periods can be tricky and need to be clearly defined in terms of length, measurement criteria, frequency of assessment, and support as well as outcomes for each person. All of this must be identified up front if a trial period is to be successful.

Excel at giving feedback tied directly to performance that includes opportunities to reflect on both current and past practices along with setting future goals and actionable next steps.
Give every employee feedback. This key point is especially important for instructional leaders as they build capacity and create self-efficacy in their schools. Our teachers need and deserve feedback after every classroom observation connected to their own goal setting process. Reflective feedback and ongoing coaching support are important parts of any continuous improvement plan.

Create heroes in every role.
This means that we encourage people to build expertise in their role. “Every role, when performed at a level of excellence, is valuable,” write Buckingham and Coffman” (p. 185−186). As leaders, we need to find ways for people to develop and deepen expertise by creating meaningful and specific performance criteria that can help an employee track his or her progress toward world-class performance.

Focus on building a strengths-based approach and invest in people.
This is another key point that is beneficial at the school and system level. If we use a strengths-based approach as a way to build a foundation for every student and teacher, we build a culture where people feel empowered and safe to try new ideas. We also build a culture where we can be reflective of our current instructional practices and the different ways we can use those strengths to continuously improve performance.

There are three categories of talents: Striving, Thinking, and Relating.
Striving explains the “why” of a person or their motivation. Thinking explains the “how” of a person or their decision-making process. Relating explains the “who” of a person or whom the person trusts, builds relationships with, confronts, or ignores. In the words of Buckingham and Coffman, “The power of skills and knowledge is that they are transferable from one person to another. In contrast, the power of talent is that it is transferable from one situation to another” (p. 88).

Provide alternate routes to growth and innovative ways to reward and recognize achievement.
This again speaks to the need to create expertise and “heroes” in every role. Provide people with an opportunity to discover the talents that they already possess and find ways to celebrate the positives in an authentic manner.

 

As school, diocesan, district, and/or instructional leaders, you recognize the importance of finding and keeping talented, committed people in your organization. This book reinforces the importance of building culture, finding talent, and creating heroes in every role. It is a must-read for new managers and leaders. Our work in education requires both strong leadership and effective management including our most important resource—people.

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