Friday, April 27, 2018

Revisiting Servant Leadership

Years ago after a very tough year of teaching, I sought consult via the Internet. With lots of reading and exchanges, I embraced the management practice of servant leadership. Essentially with servant leadership you consider yourself a servant to those you lead or serve. Some educators prompted me to develop this more by adding the word partnership; and building more of a servant/partner relationship with the students and families I serve as an educator. Embracing servant/partnership leadership dramatically improved my teaching/learning abilities, and created a more successful classroom environment.

An increased focus on serving students and families, in some ways, created more conflict with some of my administrative relationships however since serving students well meant speaking up and advocating more for student/family needs. This kind of advocacy was often not well received, and I often didn't really know how to navigate the multiple layers of administration with needed finesse or skill. Since the early days of this advocacy, there has been positive change, and that change has been mainly due to the fact that multiple books and research have pointed to the fact that servant/partnership leadership works so more people are embracing that focus. Just yesterday a good HBS article gained traction on Twitter that relates to this and a recent, very expensive Google study about effective work places identified similar attributes of success. So there's value in servant/partner leadership.

I have tried to use this approach with those that lead me too and that has not been as easy since to serve your leaders often takes away your creativity, autonomy, and sense of worth--sometimes this service feels like the kind of servitude that diminishes the human spirit and makes one feel more like a robot than a valued employee. Yet to serve your leaders often creates greater success for individuals in an organization. I'm a big fan of distributive leadership models where people work together to prioritize, make decisions, maximize everyone's strengths, mitigate challenges/weaknesses, and achieve--in that kind of environment, servant/partnership leadership with those you serve and those that serve you would work well. I believe it's less easy in strictly hierarchical organizations; though that's something I have to think more about.

To apply servant leadership well demands that we revisit this focus often to make sure we are aligning our efforts, attitudes, and direction with what we value and believe in. As we move towards the end of the school year, it's a good time to reboot servant/partner leadership in the classroom. How can I do this:
  • Making more time to talk with students about what they need, want, and desire and responding to what they have to say.
  • Continuing to communicate and respond to families with helpful information and actions
  • Making more time to forward learning activities that engage, motivate, and inspire students
  • Making time for celebrations and fun
  • Listening 
I will continue to think about this today as I watch my students do their best on state tests--as I look out, I'll be thinking about how I can serve these students and their families better. Onward.