Guest Column

You Might Be a Leader If ...

by Gerald L. Fowler

While much has been written about the qualities of successful school leaders, I’ve always found it difficult to identify leadership behaviors in action. Were you simply supposed to recognize a leadership action as such when you see it? And how do you tell the difference between leading and managing?

With these questions in mind, I set out a few years ago to create a field guide of sorts for self-reflection and leader watching. It became a useful discussion tool that was incorporated into staff development activities at the start of each school year.

My attempts to identify leadership actions were limited to personal reflections about what I had seen others do or hoped to see them do as they went about running schools, supervising central-office and academic departments or interacting with parents and community members. I discovered that although narrow in focus, my guide could be effective in creating awareness, visualizing roles or providing opportunities for emerging leaders to know when they were on the right track.

My points below are not all-inclusive. They are meant to be a dynamic collection of behaviors that can be used to enrich discussions about translating leadership thinking into leadership action. (You may recognize a slight influence from comedian Jeff Foxworthy.)

You might be a leader if …

Setting Expectations
You create activities to encourage colleagues to develop a set of core beliefs to guide your school or program.

You take time to make sure everyone you supervise has a clear understanding of what you expect from the observation and evaluation process.

You plan staff development for your department or school on a regular basis regardless of whether it is happening elsewhere.

You anticipate the need for others to have information and provide it to them in a timely manner through meetings, briefings, e-mail or written communications.

You frequently find a moment to share a new idea, highlight a thought from a professional journal or lead a discussion on an educational topic.

You intercede when you observe staff members who are not working well together or are in open conflict because it is undermining the effectiveness of your school or district.

You require the integration of technology strategies in all classrooms to include use of basic tools and the capacity to make maximum use of the Internet.

You direct a staff member to treat a student or group of students in a way you think will more likely encourage learning, even though your decision may prove to be unpopular.

You use focus groups, data mining, surveys and other evidence-based strategies to collect information about learning.

Encouraging Routinely
You attend professional conferences and workshops and use the information to generate new ideas for your department, school or school district to consider.

You include activities for your staff and school that celebrate the successes of your organization or are just plain fun.

You set about to make broad changes in a manner that demonstrates respect for those upon whose shoulders the changes will be implemented by providing time, resources, input and shared decision-making opportunities.

You convey the parent's point of view to your staff to keep them informed and help them gain a broader perspective.

You create opportunities for all staff members (not just those who are clearly in need) to identify how they can grow or improve and map out plans to help them do so.

You provide opportunities for your staff to reflect on the progress of different types of students and engage them in conversations on how to make improvements as appropriate.

You provide examples and tell stories that underscore your beliefs about education and learning.

You volunteer for leadership roles both within and outside your school and department.

You recognize that leadership is not determined by the time you have available but the significance of each action that you take.

Gerald Fowler, a superintendent for 12 years, is an assistant professor for educational leadership and policy at Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, PA 17257. E-mail: