Our work at Prizmah connects us to leaders from all kinds of schools across North America. We know that our schools have a lot in common, and we also know that each school is unique and special for its students, teachers, and families. When we are asked, “What makes a great Head of School?” the answer is complicated because each successful Head has his or her authentic leadership, and that authenticity is often tied to the culture and beauty of the school.
If I think about some of the strong qualities leaders bring, they include, but are not limited to:
- Reflective practice: The ability to reflect on one’s own practice with the goal of ongoing learning and self-improvement. The more authentic and transparent this practice is, the more it has an impact on the rest of the leadership team and the faculty.
- Focus on values: When a leader works with his/her team on core values for the school, strives to live by those values, and expects others to do the same, it is clear to all stakeholders what the school truly believes—beyond the mission of the school.
- Distributive leadership: When a leader has a team that is trusted to make decisions, that is a sounding board, and that models the school’s core values, not all decisions need to go through the Head of School. This kind of team is built over time and can be a very powerful part of the operations and culture of a school.
- Vision: A leader (and team) who is looking beyond today and has a clear sense of where the school is headed is able to articulate that vision to the Board, parents, faculty, and students. A school team that has a sense of where it is headed is striving toward that vision and never forgets that our work is for the students.
I know that this list could include many qualities, and I chose to write about only a few. As someone who does a great deal of leadership coaching, I know that no Head can do this work without the partnership and support of a board that understands the complexity of the job, encourages risk taking (and is there when some risks fail), serves as true ambassadors for the school, and raises the money necessary for a strong school.
We chose in this issue to talk to a few Heads who have entered into leadership in their own unique ways, who have strengths and weaknesses that are different, and who succeed in their schools and in their communities. Sometimes our vision of leadership does not take into account the authentic ways our leaders lead and succeed. The leaders featured in the JDS Stories article below exemplify what it means to successfully carve out a personal and authentic leadership approach. They also know how to build a team around them and, in the words of Jim Collins, “get the right people on the bus.”
Prizmah is dedicated to helping school leaders at all levels explore and leverage their authentic selves. Programs like Leader to Leader, HOSPEP, YOU Lead, and the coaching we offer all start from the place of the individual leader, identifying unique strengths and then working to deepen impact. Only by mobilizing and empowering leaders of today and for the future can we truly sustain the Jewish day school field.