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My Philosophy of Educational Leadership -Critical Element Paper #1 Presented to the Department of Educational Leadership and Postsecondary Education University

of Northern Iowa -In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master of Arts in Education or Advanced Studies Certificate -by Lindsay A. Spears Prairie Point Middle School and Ninth Grade Academy Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Dr. Timothy Gilson

MY PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP My professional ambition is to positively impact the education of students and the

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environments in which they learn. I became intrigued by education at a very young age. Growing up around family members with disabilities provided me with invaluable experiences and insight. It was natural for me to accept their differences and assume a teaching role in their lives. I also witnessed their challenges and frustrations in the school setting when their needs were not met. By age ten, I knew I would be devoting my life to improving the education and services of students, especially those with diverse learning needs. As a counselor for adults with mental illnesses and disabilities, I was able to see these individuals generalize and apply skills they had once learned in school. I was also able to observe that significant gaps in their education affected their ability to succeed at home, at work, and in the community. At one point, they were students sitting in our classrooms. Now, they are adults expected to function in society as independently as possible. As a special educator, I use this previous experience as a constant reminder to prepare students for life. They need to be lifelong learners, lifelong problem-solvers, and lifelong contributors to our society. I want to instill this lifelong skill and enthusiasm for learning in the students and staff that I serve. I am motivated by my life’s experiences to seek administrative leadership in Special Education. Although my position within education may change, my purpose will not. My decisions and actions as a leader of a learning community will continue to maximize student success, ensure their needs are met, and improve their quality of life. I plan to do this by focusing on people: communicating effectively, collaborating with all stakeholders, being a model of lifelong learning, establishing trusting relationships, and meeting the needs of students, teachers, and community members.

MY PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP In order to successfully lead a learning community, school leaders must possess specific character traits, a complex set of skills, and a vast knowledge of their system. Leaders need to have strong communication skills in order to be successful. Without communication, effective collaboration is not possible. Leaders need to frequently articulate the vision and goals for learning with all stakeholders. Leaders can move a learning community forward by collaboratively developing a vision and by consistently communicating it through words and

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actions throughout the implementation process. According to Wilmore (2002), “Communication inside and outside of the school is imperative to the accomplishment of the school’s goals as well as to the public image and perception of the school” (p. 56). I believe my strengths in setting goals, identifying strategies for meeting those goals, collaborating with others, and communicating effectively will help me to successfully lead a learning community. I believe my knowledge of special education will also help me to successfully lead a learning community. It is crucial to have an understanding of a wide range of disabilities and instructional strategies that meet individual needs. Leaders in special education also need to have sufficient knowledge regarding related services and supports, special education law, paperwork requirements, general education classroom expectations, Iowa Alternate Assessment, the Iowa Core, student and staff scheduling, assistive technology, transportation, transition planning, etc. The most important part about this list is the fact that it is always changing. Legislation, technology, funding, and students’ needs are dynamic. A leader in special education must be a leader in learning to stay abreast of these constant changes. This aligns with what Robbins and Alvy (2009) stated about the leader as a learner: “A critical learning for leadership is acknowledging that there will always be a need to learn more” (p. 7). In order to successfully lead, we must adapt to these changes by continuously seeking learning opportunities and

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providing staff with those learning opportunities as well. It is important that all special education staff work in parallel to meet students’ needs, and clear communication is crucial when these changes occur. While the skill of communication and the knowledge that comes with lifelong learning will be helpful for me as a leader, the quality of the relationships I establish will truly influence student success. Without the fundamental element of trust, the learning community will not reach its potential. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey (1996) stated, “Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships” (p. 203). Building and nurturing relationships is a critical component of education. Successful collaboration requires a high level of trust among all stakeholders. It is the leader’s job to uphold the fifth standard of the Iowa Standards for School Leaders (ISSL) and establish a trusting environment “by acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner” (Wilmore, 2002, p. 80). People need to trust and be trusted – including, and especially the leader. People are more willing to trust a leader who is consistent, fair, reliable, values others’ time, and who treats all individuals with respect. Stakeholders can trust a leader who they feel has a 360-degree perspective of the system, a solid understanding of staff and student needs, and the ability to evaluate situations in order to make sound decisions. Leaders must be competent in the school leadership responsibilities of relationships and situational awareness in order to fulfill these expectations (Marzano, Waters, & McNulty, 2005). The learning community can maximize its success when all stakeholders trust their leader’s capabilities, as well as his or her character. Each stakeholder has a unique set of expectations of their leader. While some may overlap, it is important to consider how the expectations may differ between students, teachers,

MY PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP and community members. Students could expect to feel safe under my leadership because they

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“cannot learn successfully when fear is a part of their lives” (Robbins & Alvy, 2009, p. 204). My number one priority as an educator is the well being, both physical and mental, of the children we serve. Students could expect to be a part of the development and implementation of schoolwide behavioral expectations and routines, as well as the crisis management planning manual. Students could expect security in proactive, preventative safety measures. All students in my learning community could also expect that I will work diligently to ensure their needs are met. They could expect an environment conducive to reaching their potential. Above all, the students could expect an improvement in their quality of life. “As principals, we are on a constant quest to develop every person to his or her highest potential to promote achievement” (Wilmore, 2002, p. 39). Teachers can expect that I will uphold the pillars of ISSL’s second standard relating to instructional leadership – I will be on a constant quest to support their professional growth. As a steward of the learning community’s vision and mission, the leader is charged with empowering those around him or her to grow, to pursue, to take risks, to achieve individual goals. When a teammate wins, the team wins. The teachers could expect a visible leader who is part of their professional support system. According to Marzano et al. (2005), visibility behaviors include making systematic and frequent visits to classrooms. This would help me to gain knowledge of the curriculum, provide feedback and guidance to teachers, and show my support of the teachers’ and students’ hard work. Teachers could expect my role as supervisor and evaluator to serve as their launch pad for professional growth and to support achievement of the students in their classrooms. I will pair high visibility with timely, constructive and relevant feedback teachers can realistically use to enhance instruction and improve student learning. As cited in Johnson (2008), a principal had stated,

MY PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP “Every piece of feedback has to be very specific. You have to understand how to give feedback

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that moves the work” (p. 75). I need to provide this kind of feedback in order to promote student achievement as well as to be seen as a professional support, not just an evaluator. Visibility and active involvement in the learning environments are behaviors that can be expected from me as an instructional leader. This leadership responsibility is also an expectation of the communities we serve. “You can never ignore community interests and needs. Stay actively involved, keeping your thumb on the pulse of the community, knowing its priorities and how the school fits into that picture. Schools are a microsystem of society” (Wilmore, 2002, p. 71). Community members can expect reciprocal relationships that meet the needs of both parties while enhancing our students’ educational opportunities and quality of life. I will actively work to obtain and sustain public support for our learning community. This includes visibility in community events, sharing our mission and vision with all stakeholders, reaching out to the media, developing partnerships with local businesses, seeking educational grants, advocating for our school, and sharing student achievements. As we are educating students to become active, contributing citizens of society, it is essential for leaders to involve the communities in the students’ education. The community can expect that I will meet ISSL’s fourth and sixth leadership standards in regards to collaborative and political leadership, while demonstrating the leadership responsibility characteristics of outreach. Marzano et al. (2005) define these as being an advocate of the school with parents, the central office, and the community at large. Collaborative leaders inspire people to work together, to grow, to change, and to meet common goals. Leaders who encourage working with people to achieve goals, not around them, are inspiring to me. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey (1996)

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emphasized the importance of building and nurturing relationships by saying, “With people, slow is fast and fast is slow” (p. 252). This simple quote has taught me to focus on individuals in order to achieve goals. If leaders attempt to be efficient by not taking the time with their stakeholders, then the lack of relationship and trust that may result leads to loss of efficiency in meeting a goal. Todd Whitaker also motivates me to put people first ahead of efficiency. In his book, What Great Principals Do Differently (2003), he shared numerous examples on the effectiveness of treating others with dignity. He also highlighted the importance of people over programs, people over perspectives, and people over preferences. Empowering, improving, motivating, and respecting people was his overlying message that inspires me to keep relationships as my central focus. As a leader of a learning community, I will expect teachers, students, and community members to maintain a similar focus while working to achieve our common goals. As a leader, I will expect teachers to make every decision based on what is best for students. This means adhering to the teaching standards as well as demonstrating a passion for student success that cannot be put on paper. I expect teachers to meet the needs of all leaners in their classrooms while treating each child with the highest levels of respect. The teachers should share their enthusiasm for lifelong learning with their students. I will expect the students to contribute positively to the climate of our school by being a safe, respectful, and active participants. I will expect them to do their best and to take advantage of each opportunity they are given. I expect the community members to be functioning components of our students’ education by upholding reciprocal relationships with the school and demonstrating follow through. I expect the community to invest in the education of our youngest members and to understand they are our hope for the future.

MY PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP All stakeholders must establish trusting relationships and put people first. Through this trusting relationship, the stakeholders can successfully communicate to determine a common vision, strategize ways to achieve goals, and work collaboratively to implement the plan with integrity. Wherever I may lead, I will lead using a relationship-centered approach to ensure the success of all learners and to improve students’ quality of life.

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References

Covey, S. R. (1996). The seven habits of highly effective people (Version 2.0. ed.). Provo, UT: Franklin Covey.

Johnson, J. (2008). The principal's priority 1. Educational Leadership, 66(1), 72-76.

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Robbins, P., & Alvy, H. B. (2009). The principal's companion: Strategies for making the job easier (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin.

Whitaker, T. (2003). What great principals do differently: Fifteen things that matter most. Larchmont, N.Y.: Eye on Education.

Wilmore, E. L. (2002). Principal leadership: Applying the new Educational Leadership Constituent Council (ELCC) standards. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.