September 4, 2013 by

ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership Preview: Closing General Session with Salome Thomas-EL

ASCD’s Conference on Educational Leadership is right around the corner and we are here to provide you with a sneak peek into the conference schedule. The conference promises to give school leaders like you new ideas for your leadership knowledge base, help you focus on what matters most in leadership, and connect you with global educational leaders. Stay tuned here on Inservice each week for more insight on what is to come at the ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership.

Passionate Teachers and Students Need Passionate Leaders

By Salome Thomas-EL

Salome Thomas-EL on commitment to studentsAs we begin another school year with our wonderful students, I have been reflecting on the passion and love that teachers and staff members share for their students. How lucky we are as principals and school leaders to work with such committed educators.

Our teachers love their students before ever meeting them. Every one of the students who walk into our school and the millions of schools around the world come to us as excited children who want to learn, have fun, and feel safe in school. But the awesome teachers we work with and support as school leaders make that school experience so much more powerful for kids. I firmly believe excellent teachers move ordinary children to do extraordinary things!

But the world can also be a very frightening place for even the strongest children. Numerous school shootings, child abductions, the relentless fight to prevent school closings and increase funding for schools, high-stakes testing, and many other issues create a landscape even most adults find difficult to navigate. Despite our best efforts, we cannot prevent adversity from affecting our students, but we can teach them to be more resilient by remaining strong when they need us to be and changing how they think about their challenges and adversities. This strength and resolve requires us to be as passionate and committed as the teachers and adults who come to school each day underpaid, overworked, and often criticized.

Yet, they continue to save lives, or as I often say, “Save Private Ryan.” Teachers around the globe are creating a pathway to college or a career for many children who are the first in their families to become successful in school and life. Passionate leaders help to identify the tools our teachers and students need today to respond to the challenges of navigating successfully through high-risk neighborhoods, struggling communities, and an ever-changing global society.

Teachers and students need principals and school leaders who support them. Many administrators face the daunting challenge of remaining passionate about educating children in a very stressful environment that has become more about politics and high-stakes standardized testing and less about ensuring that all children achieve their dreams.

Fighting the battles for our students to ensure their success does not require the loudest or most popular leader. Early in my career, I made the mistake of pursuing the status of the most popular and well-liked principal, but my students suffered. My teachers were happy because they had a leader who did any and everything to please them, but it was not the best move for my students. I found out later that many of my teachers didn’t like that old version of me. They wanted someone who would stand up for them, and to them, in a respectful manner, when they were not focused on the students. They needed a leader who would be honest and committed just like they were. Someone who would stay the course and be committed during those tough times and circumstances we all face as educators. Almost everything I have learned as an administrator and leader, I have learned from my staff, students, and parents.

Passionate leaders inspire people to follow them and accept their influence, their leadership. Our teachers and students should be engaged and their input valued. Recently, my staff adopted a new slogan to begin the school year, “We are educating and elevating every child, every day, to attend the best high schools and colleges! No excuses!” We should all make that commitment to our students.

Today, I begin my quest to no longer make excuses as a leader. If they need it, I will build it and make it happen—with passion and a smile.

Have a great school year!

Salome headshotSalome Thomas-EL (Principal EL) is the head of school at Thomas Edison Charter School in Wilmington, DE. Thomas Edison is a high-poverty K-8 school that regularly sends students to some of Delaware’s top public, charter and private high schools. Principal EL is the author of two books, I Choose to Stay and The Immortality of Influence. He was a regular contributor on the Dr. Oz Show and has appeared on C-Span, NPR and Oprah Radio. You can find him on twitter at: @Principal_EL, or visit his web site at: http://www.PrincipalEL.com, and view some of his inspirational videos at: www.youtube.com/salomethomasel