Soon after the new President of the United States took
office, Mr. Bill reflected on his own role as a leader in our community. “I
never wanted to be an administrator. I loved being a teacher. I loved the
direct communication and influence I could have on students, and they could
have on me. But there is a point where you take a look at leadership and you
say, ‘I think as a group we can do better.’ And then you toss your hat in the
ring. I think [being a principal] is a really hard job. It doesn’t mesh entirely
with my personality. I have the ham in me, but I also tend to like to be solo a
lot. ” Below Mr. Bill describes how MCS focuses on developing and sharpening
the leadership skills of its administration, teachers, and students.
Leading & Learning
“This is my fifth year here at the school, and it is my ardent hope that I don’t get stale as a leader,” Mr. Bill says. “What the school needed five years ago, and what the community needed five years ago, is different from what is needed now. I ought to be able to have the ability to change how I do what I do.”
With this in mind, last year, Mr. Bill applied for, and received, a grant from the Margaret Waddington Leadership Initiative for School Administrators to participate in a leadership-training program designed by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) for Vermont principals. A total of 48 principals from the state are currently participating in the nine-month program, which features a mix of face-to-face and virtual learning.
According to the CCL, self-knowledge is the most important factor in the practice of leadership. Over the course of the program, the individual strengths and developmental needs of each participating principal will be explored using various assessments tools, including a 360° evaluation in which confidential, anonymous feedback about each participant’s leadership style will be collected from staff, teachers, community members, other principals and administrators. Participants will also conduct a self-evaluation.
“I feel lucky to have been selected, and also fortunate to have this kind of thorough analysis, so if I’m neglecting something, I’ll get information about it and be able to respond,” says Mr. Bill.
Teachers Leading the Way
The School Leadership Team is a group of MCS teachers that meets monthly. There are five representatives: one from K-2, one from grades three and four, one from grades five and six, one from Special Education and one from the Specials.
The group serves as both a communication forum and a decision-making forum. “We discuss everything from the budget, to bake sales, to whether helmets should be required on the ice rink, to homework, to report cards, to calling school off when weather is unsavory,” says Mr. Bill. “These ideas get bandied about and the committee decides which issues to bring up at the next faculty meeting.”
Mr. Bill attends the meetings but makes an effort not to act as the leader. “I am a participant and help coordinate but I want them to know that they are the leaders.” This is particularly important, says Mr. Bill, because administrators often have a higher turnover rate than teachers.
The School Culture Team, now in its fourth year, is comprised of two randomly selected students from each grade, beginning with second. The group meets for 30 minutes once a month for three months. Within this time, they are tasked with coming up with and completing a project. Every three months, a new group of students is randomly chosen to serve on the team. “The message is that every one of you is capable of learning leadership,” says Mr. Bill.
“We get quite a bit done,” says Mr. Bill, who, along with Mr. Newton, facilitates the meetings. “At the first meeting, we brainstorm 15-20 ideas. Then they vote to whittle it down to about five choices, and talk more about those five before they vote to select just one. The second meeting is to figure out how what we are going to do will look. At the third meeting, we decide how to execute our plan.”
Some projects launched by the School Culture Team include picking a school mascot, putting out a school newspaper, and a creative alternative to a yearbook that involved hanging photographs of students from the chandelier. Other projects that have been considered include Bring-Your-Pet-to-School-Day and an all-day recess. “Not all the ideas are feasible,” says Mr. Bill, “but we always end up with something, even if it’s not as grandiose as the original idea. Part of the exercise is trying to come up with an idea that can be accomplished. The students learn the concept of compromise.”