Sunday, March 17, 2013

How May I Help You? (Servant Leadership)

Top notch teachers more often than not have a strong desire to help others, this is one of many traits that helps them to be empathetic - a key to meaningful teaching. In the same vein though, one of the common complaints of teachers pertaining to administrators is that they are disconnected from the classroom and therefore don't understand the struggles that a teacher goes through in the classroom. The idea is the same for the very best administrators that we hear about and read about; they have the ability to empathize with colleagues and they embrace the idea of servant leadership. I am not an administrator, but as a teacher I try to understand and follow the same ideas in the hopes the I will become a integral part of my school to my students, teachers, administrators, and the community as a whole.

George Couros is one of many leaders that I follow that seems to carry servant leadership as one of the many tools in his toolbox of administrative skills. Recently discussing an example of the practical application of servant leadership in a blog post titled Questions and Ownership Couros said:
I have said this before, that great leadership should model the same things that great teachers do.  If you are the leader or teacher with all of the answers, what happens when you leave?  What have you built within your school or classroom?  Even if your school moves forward because of the wisdom of one person, that is a culture of one, and that culture will die when you leave.  We have to figure out better ways for our staff and students to own the culture and learning, and follow up by doing what we can to empower them to be successful.
I gather two big ideas from this discussion on leadership: continuity and shared leadership. Now, built into these things are optimism, empowerment, trust, team-work, and many other key characteristics but when it comes down to it a school often needs to have continuity and shared leadership to survive. It is often said that the average time a principal will spend at a school is 2-3 years before moving on or up in their careers. Although this is unsettling, I think the best move for schools is to have a system in place that allows for this professional mobility without a loss of overall skills, knowledge, and leadership. Empowering teacher-leaders by allowing them to fulfill leadership roles at a school-wide level will not only diversify the leadership within a school it will unify the school and allow for the long standing stability and continuity needed for success.

The following list of critical skills for the servant leader is adapted from the work of the originator of the term "servant leadership" Robert Greenleaf:
  1. Listening - Communication is always a valued trait of a leader and it is no different in servant leaders. Servant leaders seek to identify the will of their group and clarify any misunderstandings, by actively listening they also act as a medium for communication by listening and moderating communications.
  2. Empathy - As mentioned above, servant leaders seek to understand and empathize with others, in both the positive and negative aspects of the teaching and learning profession.
  3. Healing - Greenleaf wrote, "There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between the servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something that they have."Understanding how to heal people's hearts and minds is a key to understanding how to be a true servant leader.
  4. Awareness - This refers to a frame of mind that seeks self-awareness and general awareness of things like school culture and climate.
  5. Persuasion - This is a key difference to most traditional models of leadership, where a leader seeks to persuade others rather than coerce compliance. Building consensus in this way often leads to stronger and more stable buy-in from stakeholders within a school setting.
  6. Conceptualization - Servant-leaders must be able to conceptualize an optimistic future and see it in the day-to-day undertaking of a leader, teacher, or student
  7. Foresight - Linked to the previous skill, foresight it is vital for leaders to conceptualize the future while understanding the past either explicitly or intuitively.
  8. Stewardship - Robert Greenleaf's view of all institutions was one in which CEO's, staff, directors, and trustees all play significance roles in holding their institutions in trust for the great good of society.
  9. Commitment to the Growth of People - Servant-leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, servant-leaders are deeply committed to a personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each and every individual within the organization.
  10. Building Community - Servant-leaders seek to identify a means for building community among those who work within a given institution. Creating a living learning community in a school can be one of the most powerful movements made by a servant leader.
To learn more about servant leadership you can explore the website devoted to Greenleaf's servant leadership or you can buy the 25th anniversary edition of the original book that still holds valuable information for leadership today. You can also watch this 10 minute YouTube video explaining some of the tenants of servant leadership.

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How Can I Help You? Servant Leadership by Anthony Pascoe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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