The Attitude of the Leader


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By Baruti K. Kafele

For the 14 years that I served as an urban principal in New Jersey, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the notion that the achievement gap was my primary issue. Although it existed and it was rather wide, I did not see a change in instructional practices being the solution to closing this gap. I was convinced that the problem was deeper than achievement yet within our grasp to correct. It was my strong contention then, as it continues to be today, that the attitudes of students, staff, and administrators matter. As I say regularly, attitude is everything!

For this post, I want to focus specifically on the attitude of the leader with these five reflective questions:

1. Do I lead with a definite purpose that drives everything I say and do?

As the principal of the school, you must lead with a clearly defined purpose. What is it that you want to accomplish as the school’s leader? Why do you do this work day in and day out? Your purpose for leading will drive everything you say and do as the leader of your school. Purpose matters!

2. Are my actions intentional?  Do I aim to be intentional about what I do as a leader?

I say often that the principal is the most important person in the district. The role of the principal is crucial to the overall success of the school. The school goes as the principal goes. To that end, there is no room in the principal’s repertoire for haphazard leadership. Everything the principal does must be intentional. Of particular importance is the principal’s intentionality behind what students “see, hear, feel, and experience” in the school on a daily basis.  For instance, do students see acknowledgement, recognition and celebration of themselves on classroom and hallway walls? Do students hear regularly that they are extraordinary? Do students feel good about who they are while in the school? Do students have experiences in school that are magical? Intentionality matters!

3. Do I treat my leadership as a mission, not as a job, profession, or career?

Yes, as the principal of your school, your principalship is your job, your profession, and your career. However, with regard to the urgency needed to get the job done, principals must view their leadership as more than a job, profession, or career and see it as a mission. The word mission connotes that there is something special to be done, that you have been called to do this special task, and that nothing will stop you until the mission is accomplished. Mission matters!

4. Do I have a vision of what I expect my students to achieve?

I often say that leading a school without a clearly defined vision is like leading a school with a blindfold on. Before you step into that building for the first time, you must have a vision for where you expect your school to be as a result of your leadership. Your vision becomes the target you are aiming for. It gives you something to strive for. Without a clearly defined vision of what you expect your students to achieve, you risk becoming more of a wanderer than a principal. Vision matters!

5. Do I see myself as the number one determinant of the success or failure of my students?

I have met many principals who have stated to me that they can’t embrace this one. I totally understand, but I will always maintain that a school with a leader who believes that he or she is the number one determinant of the success or failure of their student body is a school with a leader who possesses a solid attitude for success. Attitude matters!

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