Cultivating Emotionally Intelligent School Leaders
We are witnessing a tremendous transformation in the field of education as baby boomer administrators are retiring in large numbers and new leaders are taking over our schools. These newcomers are being trained in the best teaching colleges/universities and by private vendors contracted by school districts and departments of education. Their coursework includes school budgeting, staff recruitment, state of the art curricula innovations, best RTI practices, templates for professional development and methodologies to improve parent involvement. All of these skills are necessary and pivotal to school success but none can be accomplished in a vacuum. The missing piece is training our future school leaders to build climate and culture in schools that is predicated on their ability to listen, to be self-aware, to develop strong staff relationships and be authentic. In our haste to fill vacancies, we are overlooking the need to cultivate leaders who exemplify the basic tenets of emotional intelligence.
Outstanding educators are self-aware and consciously work to develop themselves. They are aware of their strengths, their challenges, seek feedback, and are open to learn from their mistakes. Their goal is to go through a process of intentional change while depending on their strengths and continuously working with their challenges. Their goal is to become the leader they have always aspired to be and become their “ideal self” with all its pride and sense of accomplishment.
In order to reach this ideal self, potential school leaders must be taught how to recognize their own emotions, how to understand or interpret what they are feeling, how to accurately label their emotions, express them in an appropriate fashion and then hardest of all, to self-regulate their emotions. These skills are not readily taught in a course with a term paper nor are they developed overnight. They necessitate a highly motivated potential leader who is willing to be transparent with a coach or mentor who will support them in exploring their own potential. They will have to create a leadership vision and then plod through the muddy process of developing the skills necessary to achieve their goals. There is a need to look at their core values as a human being and ensure they are congruent with their leadership vision and the goals they have set for themselves and their school community. The real work to be done is in closing the gap between who the potential school administrator actually is now and his/her vision for his/her ideal self. This will involve introspection, trusting a coach or mentor to guide them on their journey, ongoing evaluation of where they are in the growth process and willingness to develop a skill set which will promote personal growth.
Future leaders need to learn strategies such as taking an intervening moment in the face of adversity and giving themselves time to regroup. The necessity to reframe certain interactions must be recognized so he/she can walk in another’s shoes and see the other side of a potential conflict. Most importantly, these potential leaders need to become aware of the impact their behavior is having on those around them in the school community. This cannot be easily accomplished or done overnight. Clearly, it is a change process that takes time and commitment.
Do we teach this in leadership courses? Is course time designed to support this type of growth in emotional intelligence? Sadly, this is often overlooked in leadership preparation programs but until we make the time to cultivate thoughtful, self-aware leaders who understand themselves and their relationships with those around them, the success of our schools is in jeopardy. There is a national need to cultivate school leaders who have social and emotional competencies that will inform their work with teachers, parents and students while building schools with nurturing, climates that support a culture of high expectations and improved student outcomes. #
Dr. Bonnie Brown is Superintendent of District 75—Citywide Programs of the New York City Department of Education.