Charter School Leaders: Top 10 Habits of Mind You Need to Break
Updated: Aug 24
As we turn our thoughts to the new school year, we often start with a grand list of goals and project plans which quickly drive our “to do” list. But what good are goals and plans if we continue to repeat bad habits that are impacting our success? What are those bad habits and how can we break them?
My Top 10
From my experience, the following ten habits of mind are most common among charter school leaders. As we are both business leaders and school leaders, we are balancing many responsibilities and far too many employees. Charter school leaders come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from teachers to CEOs of related businesses, and each charter school is unique in its culture and academic needs. And every new school year brings its own set of challenges.
Before you implement your next program or open the new school year, consider the following list of beliefs. How many resonate with you? What can you do now to change your mindset and prepare for a more successful school year?
As you read each item below, consider if have allowed yourself to believe it and if that belief has caused a problem for you.
One person speaks for the group. For example, one complaining parent represents the majority of parents and how they feel about your school, or one upset teacher reflects the mood of your whole staff. This may or may not be true, but the only way to find out is to ask a more representative sample.
Test results give the measure of your success. As school grades and annual performance reports are released, do you allow others to accept the academic results as the only measure of your school’s success? What else does your school do to meet the needs of your students? Are you celebrating those efforts equally?
You have all the answers. Do you answer questions on the spot, in the belief that you should have all the answers off the top of your head? Are you reluctant to admit you don’t know something or need more time to respond to a question? You can develop a formula response for that question in the hallway that says you will respond when you can, and then give your response the full attention the question deserves as soon as you can.
You are to blame for anything that goes wrong. While the school leader is certainly accountable for all that occurs at school, do you allow yourself and others to blame you? Looking for blame avoids looking for solutions. Stay focused on changing what can be changed.
Asking for help is a sign of weakness. You may be reluctant to call a colleague with a question or ask for help from you staff if you believe this makes you look less qualified. In fact, this can create a culture where teachers are also afraid to ask for help. You need to model how to do this for your staff.
You are not allowed to have a personal life. Do you feel guilty if you leave on time? Do you apologize if you have to take care of personal or family member’s needs? Do you avoid using personal time for any reason during the school year? A healthy work-life balance helps everyone. Take care of yourself; the work will be there tomorrow.
People should know what you expect without being told. Have you been let down by staff members, parents, or board members who did not do as you expected? Do you find it hard to delegate important tasks because they never get done the way you wanted? A good leader knows how to set the goal, give important information needed to complete the task, and then let it go. Allow people to own the task, as long as they meet the goals. Check out this handy resource to learn how to delegate without losing control: Know when to delegate
It’s your job to see the big picture and leave the details to others. While this sounds nice, the reality is that you need to pay attention to the details too. Without micromanaging, set goals with your team and hold them accountable for meeting those goals with frequent check-ins and realistic deadlines.
People don’t need to be told when they are doing the right thing. Some people withhold praise because they assume others already know they are doing the right thing. Precise and timely praise can change your school culture and build resilience and sustainability. Just like in the classroom (Teach Like a Champion “precise praise”), praise is a powerful tool to keep people doing what you want them to do.
It’s impossible to have a structure for the day. While we all know that school leaders are pulled in a hundred different directions every day, that doesn’t mean you can’t put some boundaries around your time. Schedule time in the classrooms, time for emails and phone calls, and time for meetings. Train your staff to respect those boundaries and train yourself to honor your own time.
My thoughts are with all charter school leaders as we prepare for the new school year. If any of these ideas sparked for you, please let me know in the comments below. And best wishes for a fantastic new school year!
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Peggy Downs works with school leaders who want to leverage grants to dramatically increase funding, impact, and credibility for their schools.
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