64 LEADERSHIP Reprinted with permission from Exchange magazine. Visit us at www.ChildCareExchange.com or call (800) 221-2864. Multiple use copy agreement available for educators by request. EXCHANGEMARCH/APRIL2011 Is boss a four-letter word? byMargie Carter Ships, airplanes, platoons, and teams have captains; choirs and orchestras have conductors; governments have mayors, prime ministers, and presidents. Who do early childhood centers have to keep things on track, assure people are learning their parts, working in harmony, and strengthening democratic ideals? The McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership has coined the phrase, “Directors are the key to quality.” Since research shows that quality in most programs is mediocre at best, I can’t help but wonder: Where have we put our keys? I’ve been musing on how directors perceive their roles and choose their leadership style, particularly when changes are needed in their centers. In communitybased ECE programs I typically see a preference for the idea of director as a facilitator, rather than a supervisor, and for shared leadership rather than a ship’s captain. Is this because our profession is predominantly female, inherently focused on nurturing growth and philosophically opposed to authoritarian pracMargie Carter is coauthor of The Visionary Director: A Handbook for Dreaming, Organizing, and Scheming in Your Center. She extends gratitude to all ECE directors who keep on keeping on, in spite of formidable challenges. To learn more about the “From Administrator to Innovator” Institutes and Study Tours she and Harvest Resources Associates offer, visit www.ecetrainers.com. tices? More importantly, is this approach working well? Elsewhere, middle managers in ECE programs run by school districts, Head Start, or large multi-site organizations are obliged to work in a hierarchical fashion. I’ve noticed that some appreciate this while others complain about the chain of command. In these settings and others, I’ve witnessed directors give up their power and abdicate leadership. Is this because of the dilemmas of the middle management position, or are they unaware of the impact of a leadership vacuum? When I’m in programs where things are unraveling, I want to shout, “Who’s in charge here?” The word boss is typically avoided when ECE directors describe their work. Obviously no one wants to be bossy, but why is this word shunned? Curiosity took me to an online thesaurus and I discovered that while boss as a noun or verb is associated with being in charge and running things, boss as an adjective is defined as being great, with informal synonyms like awesome, champion, excellent, wonderful, and first rate. I suspect many early childhood directors would love to be viewed as boss in that sense. Different views, different actions If one can change the thinking and environment of school leaders, the system will follow. Michael Fullan (2003) Within the same week I had interesting conversations with two directors, each with similar philosophies of encouraging respect for and empowerment of children and teachers, but constructing very different approaches to taking the reins as a director. One was hired to direct a well-regarded center with a long history of informality and casualness toward basic regulations (such as having parents sign kids in and out). She felt a need to quickly address these kinds of things which ruffled the feathers of both teachers and parents. “I was firm, yet respectful of these concerns, but they clearly viewed boss as a fourletter word.” The other director approached her role as a collaborator and coach and didn’t take charge even when it was clear that corrective action was needed. Perhaps she saw boss as a four-letter word also. 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What kind of thinking do boss (as in awesome) directors have? Directors may be wonderful, hardworking people, but how they think and the environment they create either contributes to or undermines their boss accomplishments in improving their programs. While philosophically aligned with each director described above, I sense in their stories an organizational culture of confusion about who is responsible (accountable) for what and to whom. Sometimes this confusion originates in misunderstandings about ways in which autonomy or empowerment can strengthen or erode an organization’s functioning. Maybe it’s an absence of clear values, systems, or protocols. You may be able to point to some management accomplishments, but there is no real leadership in building an intentional culture and guiding the organization’s progress. n Management is about designing systems to operate efficiently with your human and financial resources, so that you sustain the organization and remain in compliance with regulations. Much has been written about the distinction between management and leadership; both are needed in early childhood programs, large or small: Director as coach n Leadership, on the other hand, involves setting direction and galvanizing everyone’s attention and intention toward actions around a unified vision. To be successful, directors must ensure that neither the managing nor leading role is neglected. Boss directors take responsibility for not only managing compliance with regulations and fiscal sustainability, but leading the organization through any transitions required to align core values with practices that bring them to life. In our book The Visionary Director (Carter & Curtis, 2010), Deb Curtis and I empha- size the importance of a center leader’s mentoring and coaching responsibilities. This requires a focus on who the teachers are as learners, beyond getting them to meet standards. Just giving them autonomy won’t make them intentional teachers. In fact, Michael Fullan (2003) emphasizes: “Providing professional autonomy to groups of teachers who don’t have the commitment and wherewithal to conduct their work with disciplined knowledge inquiry and moral purpose will do no more than squander resources.” Boss directors understand that teachers need coaching and time to examine their work with colleagues and ‘critical friends.’ Studying the practices of the schools of Reggio Emilia and Aotearoa/ New Zealand, I have come to believe that early childhood centers must have strong pedagogical leadership that goes beyond technical assistance and keeps the organi- 66 LEADERSHIP EXCHANGEMARCH/APRIL2011 To be successful, directors must ensure that neither the managing nor leading role is neglected. Boss directors take responsibility for not only managing compliance with regulations and fiscal sustainability, but leading the organization through any transitions required to align core values with practices that bring them to life. zation focused on the teaching and learning process. Key activities of boss leaders Our American K-12 public schools have been trying to manage an improvement process for years. What they’ve learned from successes and failures could be instructive for us. I’d like to see some of our early childhood conferences featuring some of their boss leaders who could be briefed on our context, make their presentations relevant. Researching literature on transforming schools, I’ve discovered numerous approaches to school leadership described. If you want to dive into this study, two valuable resources include Essentials of School Leadership (Davis, 2005), and The Moral Imperative of School Leadership (Fullan, 2003). Knowing that your time may be limited for such study, I will try to distill some of the salient points here, particularly the parts that sing out to our early childhood leadership dilemmas. Though researchers and authors tease out distinctions between different leadership approaches and each is worth considering, I’m struck by some consistent themes in the literature. Leaders successful in improving schools engage in three kinds of activities: 1. Setting direction with a clear sense of purpose 2. Developing people in the context of a learning community 3. Realigning the organizational culture, structure, and systems with adherence to core values. Leading each of these activities must have specific strategies and work plans with evaluation markers attached to them. Somewhere in this literature on transforming schools I read the phrase, “Leading is learning,” which is boss (awesome) in several ways. Directors don’t have to have it all figured out before launching the change process. They just have to be very thoughtful and engaged. Linda Lambert’s (Davis, 2005) formulation of applying constructivist learning theory to leadership actions explains how successful school transformation is a collaborative, co-constructed leadership process. Lambert offers three stages for designated leaders to consider as they pave the road for changes: 1. A directive or central leadership role is required for the initial period when an organization is establishing a collaborative culture, structure, and processes that haven’t existed before. 2. During the transitional stage, the designated leader releases more control as teachers gain skill and experiences to emerge in their leadership roles, with continued support and coaching. 3. At the high capacity point, the designated leader assumes more of a facilitative and co-participant role. I think these stages explain Fullan’s position above about the dangers of dispers- The literature heralds Professional Learning Communities (also called Communities of Practice) as the most effective structures for developing ourselves as collaborative learners to translate big ideas into specific practices. ing leadership and relying on teacher autonomy before the time is right. It’s not just about having the right people, but having a clear process for developing a collaborative culture that motivates professional engagement and an eagerness to be part of leading organizational change. When you develop a learning organization, you have a culture and structures in place to foster the ongoing learning process. This is not only essential for teachers, but administrators and support staff as well. The literature heralds Professional Learning Communities (also called Communities of Practice) as the most effective structures for developing ourselves as collaborative learners to translate big ideas into specific practices. Key components of learning organizations Thomas Leonard (1998), often referred to as the father of personal coaching, succinctly says, “People need, and benefit greatly, from direction.” Whether you call them boss, manager, coach, or critical friend, effective leaders provide direction that shapes an early childhood organizational culture with the following components: • High standards and strong accountability in keeping with your core values According to Eric Kurjan, (2008), president of Six Disciplines Northwest Ohio: “Accountability can be understood better when you view your organization as a ‘system’ of individuals, linked by mutuality and trust, taking personal and group responsibility to achieve something meaningful — the mission, vision, and strategic position of your organization. When it’s all said and done, a workable definition of accountability might include the following elements: Taking responsibility for your own behavior; doing what’s right consistently; demonstrating personal integrity; and actively participating in activities and interactions that support the strategy of your organization.” • Commitment to ongoing learning and leadership development Alma Harris and Linda Lambert (2003) stress: “The key element in the development of leadership is the notion of learning together, and the construction of meaning and knowledge collectively and collaboratively. Such leadership allows opportunities to surface and it mediates perceptions, values, beliefs, information, and assumptions through continuous conversations. “ • Clear communications and open dialogue Kerry Patterson and co-authors (2002) describe the power of dialogue that happens when people have respectful conversations about things that are eating away at them and the ability of their organization to work cohesively: “High performance companies result more from employees mastering crucial conversations than from performance-management systems. . . . At the core of every successful conversation lies the free flow of relevant information. Successful dialogue results when everyone feels safe enough to ‘add their meaning to the shared pool’ of meaning.” • Systems, structures, and protocols aligned with your core values and direction For example, if your core values include acting with intention and integrity when faced with standards and outcomes, Harvest Resources Associates Wendy Cividanes and Debbie Lebo (2010) insist, “Teachers have the right to the time, support, structures, and tools that culti- vate their ability to reflect on the ways that new standards can be integrated into their existing teaching practice. Reflective teaching and learning is not easy work; it takes an investment of time, resources, discipline, focus, and relationships. . . . Members may need support in centering their discussion and remaining focused on the topic at hand. This may be particularly true for early childhood teachers whose voices, skills, and knowledge have too often been overlooked in our field. Consequently, many teachers have had little practice participating in a deeply reflective exchange of ideas. Use of a protocol can help communities of practice overcome this obstacle.” LEADERSHIP 67 MARCH/APRIL2011EXCHANGE • All RMS Ingredients FDA-Certified • Non-staining and Greaseless • Waterproof and Hypoallergenic • Cost Effective (10¢ per application) • Parental Consent Form Template • Broad Spectrum (UVA/UVB) Protection • Fragrance Free, Bonding Base Formula Oxybenzone-Free SPF 35 Extended UVA Protection SPF 70 Beyond good intentions I see so many well-meaning early childhood directors who are exhausted to the bone, but can’t get beyond crisis management or mediocre quality for children. Clearly, it isn’t enough to have an inspiring vision or good intentions. Effective leaders steadily acquire skills and a mature staff eager to build a learning organization. They continually evaluate and put systems in place to manage each facet of the organization, including the growth of an intellectually vibrant and respectful program culture. With these keys in hand, a boss is not a fourletter word, but truly awesome! References Carter, M., & Curtis, D. (2010). The visionary director (2nd edition). St. Paul: Redleaf Press. Cividanes, W., & Lebo, D. (2010, November/December). Cultivating a reflective disposition for teaching and learning. Exchange, 196, 48-50. Davis, B. (Ed.). (2005). Essentials of school leadership, 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Paul Chapman & Corwin Press/Sage Publications. www.rmsunscreen.com Concerned about Sunscreen Safety? Visit www.sunscreensafety.info Fullan, M. (2003). The moral imperative of school leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Harris, A., & Lambert, L. (2003). Building leadership capacity for school improvement. Philadelphia: Open University Press. Kurjan, E. (2008, October 17). Building accountability into your organization. Toledo Free Press. Lambert, L. (2005). Constructivist Leadership. In B. Davies, (Ed.), Essentials of school leadership (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Paul Chapman & Corwin Press/Sage. Leonard, T. (1998). The portable coach. New York: Scribner. Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw Hill.
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