What are the Qualities and Characteristics of a Dynamic Leader?

What are the Qualities and Characteristics of a Dynamic Leader?

Dynamic schools are dynamic because the leader and the entire school community have collectively invested time and energy beyond the call of duty to make it dynamic. The leader has to have effective listening skills and offer many platforms for staff to provide input. More importantly, the leader must believe in their colleagues and implement decisions from collaborative feedback. The leader has to constantly put the needs of the constituents and staff before their own. Moreover, they sacrifice countless hours of personal time for the benefit of the school community. 

The leader highlights the strengths of individuals so they can further contribute to the innovation of the school. They further identify areas of challenge to design professional development plans geared to strengthen the staff collectively. They encourage and find creative ways for their staff with areas of challenges to connect to staff with strengths in those same areas to grow as a professional learning community (PLC).

Despite the school community working collaboratively, the leader is faced with unique situations daily. They must be a thought provoker and problem solver that thinks outside the box to address daily problems, especially when there are no easy answers. They must work with the staff to find a solution to each problem even when some people believe it is very difficult to nearly impossible.       

Behind each dynamic school community, there is a leader leading by example. He/she is aware that everyone is watching his/her behavior with scrutiny and response to situations. Therefore, responses to urgent matters and chaos are dealt prudently and calmly.  He/she carries him/herself professionally and with dignity inside and outside the school community.  The leader does not accept mediocrity. He/she provides clear expectations to each and every position, including students. Policies and procedures are established to address each situation and hold everyone accountable to the highest standard. His/her work ethic is inimitable. 

As a novice administrator, I consistently dreamed about becoming a dynamic leader and transforming the professional landscape of underperforming schools to becoming high performing. When I initially became principal of this particular school in New Jersey in 2010, the school had a stigma for student, staff and teaching challenges. In a matter of one year, we made significant strides towards becoming a high performing/dynamic school. One of the first things we did was visit a few schools that were considered high performing/dynamic. Then our school leadership council (SLC) comprising teachers, parents, support staff, community member and administration developed a collaborative vision, core belief statements and goals. We selected four key topics and designed an action plan to address them. Then the culture of the school immediately began to change. Although I had high expectations for staff, they began to add more expectations for themselves and their peers. Teachers with specific skills were highlighted and they began leading job-embedded professional opportunities like faculty meetings and the PLCs. All staff members were able to participate in decisions about the school’s function through various committees like SLC, data, safety, PBSIS, discipline, multicultural, wellness, open house, etc. Teachers elected a PLC leader that facilitated meetings of curriculum revisions, analysis of student academic performance data to drive instruction, instructional and assessment interventions, literature review, discussing researched-based best practices and innovative practices observed during peer classroom walkthroughs, etc.

To answer my topical question, I believe the role of a leader in a dynamic school community requires effective listening skills, selflessness, understanding individual strengths and areas of challenges, problem solving skills, holding others accountable, leading by example and making those around him/her better. After 14 years of being a school building leader, I am even more confident that these quintessential leadership qualities and characteristics are needed to lead a dynamic school or school system. Do these characteristics or qualities describe you partially or entirely?   

Aspiring and current administrators seeking to be dynamic leaders should not fall for the following misconceptions associated with dynamic leaders and schools.

1) Transformation will occur overnight – Since a school community does not become dynamic overnight, the leader must be patient with the timing of the transformation. Each school community is different. Everyone must always remember the goal is to continually improve and sustain the student and school’s performance, adult collaboration and educator’s practice. 

2) Fame and money – There are examples of leaders who have been able to receive the greatest accolades and even cash in on their school’s success. However, this is not the norm. Remember we got into this profession to change the lives of children to better their future. As administrators, we are building the professional capacity of teachers and support staff to improve teaching, adult learning and student learning. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t win an award for your work/passion. When you have one or more former students coming to you years later displaying how their life was changed because of your diligence and perseverance, there is evidence of your everlasting impact. He or she will most likely pay it forward in the same or different manner. 

3) Dynamic schools are problem free – When you hear about a school’s success, chances are they are already in the groove of success and worked out most challenges like staff buy-in before the publicity because everyone wants to be part of a success story. So two important questions to ask those leaders are, “What are some of the past challenges you faced initially as the leader of this school community?” and “What are your current challenges?”

Ultimately, the climate of dynamic schools portrays the hard work of both the leader and school community. So it should be noted that support staff members, teachers, students and parents are also the dynamic leaders actively involved in the successful practices and events occurring at each dynamic school. 

What’s the Big Deal with Leading Change?

What’s the Big Deal with Leading Change?

Why are there so many books, articles, and videos etc. about people that are leading or have led change? What is the big deal? We see and hear about the myriads of school and district administrators leading change in their school districts. However, there are countless untold stories of teachers, school administrators, and district administrators leading change in classrooms, schools, and districts.  

Anyone seeking to lead effective change must have the characteristics and qualities of a dynamic leader. You can read more about that in my post titled “What are the Qualities and Characteristics of a Dynamic Leader?” However, leading change requires specific actions by the leader. Beyond the leadership characteristics, discussed in the blog post, anyone leading change must hold their staff accountable, retain the best people, recruit even better people, and be a visionary.  

When everyone is asked about their most memorable school experiences, they almost always mention the nicest teacher or the most difficult or unpleasant teacher. The most likable teacher is associated with caring or even assigning a grade they didn’t really earn. Usually the unpleasant teacher is given the most respect years later because that teacher pushed them beyond their comfort zone. Sometimes this is also true for adults when discussing their bosses. Regardless of job type or position, everyone later appreciates people who challenged them and held them accountable. Without the change agent leader, subordinates, schools, districts, and organizations would have continued to operate in the status quo.

With most changes to schools, districts and organizations, come changes in personnel. They occur because of staff members who are either resistant to them. However, it is change agent leaders who provide the community with a vision. The people that remain do so because they have longed for this change and believe in the leader to either empower them to be future leaders or because the leader is committed to making a real difference towards a better future. 

Before any change can happen, however, people like to see the direction the school, district or organization will be moving in. So, the leader has to provide them with the bigger picture and the necessary sacrifices to achieve the proposed goal or dream. Once people know the purpose for change, they are clear about why to unify, the direction to move in, and the actions to take. 

When I first entered this particular school as the principal in New Jersey in 2010, it was labeled as a failing or underperforming school. In the first school year, my priority was to change the perception of the school by establishing three separate committees: School Leadership Council (SLC), Discipline Council, and Facility Council. These committees allowed the stakeholders to identify the strengths and weaknesses of students’ academic performance, instruction, professional development, parental involvement, student attendance/tardiness, discipline, schedules, facility’s maintenance and use of space.  

Since the staff was not accustomed to having their input valued, they were a little skeptical at first. Rightfully so, because they became used to leaders saying they’re going to do something and without following through. We visited a few high performing schools within our grade ranges and spent some time in our feeding and sending schools. We highlighted their strengths and practices that we would like to implement and notified them of our concerns to determine if they were the same. We also compiled data such as grade averages, benchmark results, student/staff/parent perception surveys, student/staff attendance, discipline referrals, suspensions, student use of the restrooms, etc. so we could create a collaborative mission, vision, goals and value statement with representatives of all stakeholders present.

Then we decided on four specific areas to focus on: curriculum, culture, climate and instruction. So, we created specific, measurable, achievable, results and time-bound (SMART) goals for these four areas. We revisited the SMART goals every month to assess our progress towards achieving the goals. At the end of the first year, we achieved each measurable goal. Teachers designed their unit-based curricula with common summative assessments and standards-based rubrics. We created protocols for the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) that lead to teachers modifying their curriculum, conducting classroom walkthroughs of their peers, discussing their lesson practices and formative assessment data results, receiving feedback and strategies to enhance student learning and reviewing literature. We piloted and implemented Positive Behavior Support in Schools (PBSIS) by training the staff and the administration, modeling the behaviors first. We created a school motto “Raise the Praise.” The students and staff immediately loved to say the motto in the hallways, classrooms and outside of the building. The PBSIS committee turned praise into an acronym that became the basis of our Wildcat Buck; prepared, respectful, accountable, integrity, safety, and exceptional. So, students and staff wanted to display positive and exceptional behavior because there were a number of weekly and monthly prizes associated with the current and special events. Once teachers designed their own curricula, observed each other, and met frequently to discuss best practices, instruction changed. Students wanted to remain in class because they didn’t want to miss out on what was occurring next. As a result, test scores also rose each year. 

I believe that leaders should be acknowledged and commended for successfully leading a school, organization or district with change that improves adults for teaching children. To leaders that have led or are currently leading a school, district, or organization through positive and progressive change to improve the future of students—refrain from seeking praise for your hard work. Remember your praise will come in the form of changing lives of students who will attribute their future success to your diligence and perseverance. Another form of praise will be adults who have begun implementing effective and research-based best practices with students and their peers because of your leadership and accountability.  

Since education has become so fixated on technology tools, many people are focused on the use of technological tools in classes and schools as being the only changes that need to occur. Change does not have to be limited to the use or integration of technology. Real change has to occur in the hearts and minds of people as a result of dynamic leadership bringing purpose, accountability, and vision with no strings attached. That is the only way real change can be sustained. Everyone now knows that leading impactful and sustainable change in a classroom, school or school district is not an easy thing. Therefore, it is a big deal!