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In 2021, finding teachers who are passionate about stepping into leadership roles at their schools and districts is more important than ever. Why? Because teachers put relationships first. They aren’t far removed from what really happens in classrooms with students. Teachers value transformational leadership that is focused on integrity, morals, ethics, and relationship building. And according to Dr. Joe Novak, senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Kansas, it is the key to helping school leaders support their teachers, parents, and community through COVID-19. WeAreTeachers sat down with Dr. Novak to hear more about why we need classroom teachers in school leadership more than ever.
WeAreTeachers: How do you think COVID-19 has changed school leadership?
Joe Novak: Because COVID-19 has presented so many immediate challenges, it can be difficult for even the most upbeat and positive school leaders to keep a smile on their faces when they are constantly bombarded with the stressors attached to COVID-19. But in my estimation, it hasn’t changed school leadership as much as it has revealed that school leaders need to lead through good times and bad times. It reminds us that school officials have to find the silver lining instead of getting frustrated and acting on impulse.
WAT: What skills do you think school leaders need to successfully run a school during COVID-19?
JN: School leaders need to practice what I call transformational leadership. Transformational leaders are upbeat and encouraging. They have high integrity, morals, and ethics. And most importantly, they focus on building authentic relationships with every single person in the school community by being reflective and proactive. They rely on the unbiased opinions of others and the experience of those who have been in the field. COVID-19 hasn’t changed transformational leadership, but the need for it is greater than ever before. Because teachers are in the field, they are needed in school leadership more than ever.
WAT: What are some ways that school administrators can practice transformational leadership?
JN: By focusing on building relationships with all of their stakeholders. The ability for school leaders to continue to develop relationships and depend on others for support is one of the most wonderful things that is currently happening during COVID-19. For example, when school leaders gather to talk and share about their experiences, they learn that they are all facing similar challenges. It’s a lot less lonely. School leaders need a collaborative support system based on authentic relationships, especially now. And if school officials can maintain a sense of value and worthiness with their staff, our schools will be a lot more successful in the long term.
WAT: Why should current classroom teachers consider going into administrative roles in their schools or districts?
JN: There are so many intrinsic rewards you get from being an administrator. There’s so much you gain from positively impacting the lives of young people. We need good, strong, visionary, patient, loving people to go into school leadership in order to transform schools. There are no better people to do that than current classroom teachers who have done absolutely miraculous things for their students throughout COVID-19. We need to empower teachers to say, “yes, I can meet this moment” and become our next generation of strong school leaders.
WAT: What tools and training do teachers need to become school leaders?
JN: First, they need to identify what kind of leader they are. For example, our online educational administration programs help current classroom teachers build critical leadership skills based on collaboration, positive decision-making, effective communication, and conflict-resolution. Leaders need to create a strong school culture and climate so that every person who sets foot in their schools feels welcomed and valued. Case studies provide excellent interactive training. The case studies we use in our online programs follow the same principal making the same mistakes. We ask our students to identify the mistakes and explain what steps they would take to rectify the situation. It really helps empower educators and shows them how to foster a culture of collaboration and growth within a school administration.
WAT: Do you have any final advice for teachers as they consider moving into school leadership?
JN: Stay focused on hope. Look on the brighter side of things and consider what COVID-19 has actually done for us that we wouldn’t have thought of if it had never occurred. How can I make learning better for our students? What can I do to make it more student-centered? How can I always work toward the greater good? That’s what we need to be thinking of to get us through these tough times.