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Casting a Shadow that Creates a Winning District

By: Etienne LeGrand on May 28th, 2019

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Casting a Shadow that Creates a Winning District

Innovative Leadership

Behavior counts. How employees and students are treated and whether they feel respected begins at the top. From their first interactions with employees, students, parents, and the community, superintendents cast their “shadow” onto their district. This shadow is a reflection of everything a superintendent does and says – it may be weak or powerful, but it always exists. With this in mind, ask yourself, “Is your shadow one that will invite, include and inspire others to join you?”

Over time, organizations and the people in them tend to take on the characteristics of their leaders because people assume the tone of those who have some power and influence over them. This is why leaders have to be mindful of their shadows and whether their actions match their message. As Warren Bennis, a highly regarded pioneer in the field of contemporary leadership once said, “A leader doesn’t just get the message, he is the message.”

The shadows cascade: superintendents cast a shadow on their senior team, then the senior team members cast a shadow on their department heads who in turn cast a shadow on the employees and principals in their cohort. From there, the principals cast a shadow on the employees who work in their schools, and every faculty and staff member inevitably casts a shadow on the students who depend on them to learn.

Allowing Your Shadow to Set the Standard

At every level in a school district, leaders through their behaviors are sending messages to employees. The message is drowned out if their actions conflict with their words. The “Do as I say and not as I do” thinking won’t build a team of aligned employees. We must lead our school districts with the words of American author James Baldwin in our mind, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” All employees (not just teachers) send messages to students through their actions. Are your actions worthy of imitation? What will your students and teammates learn from you?  

When leaders or managers come in late, they can’t expect their employees to arrive early. When leaders behave dishonestly they can’t expect their employees to be honest. When leaders disrespect their employees and show little concern for them as human beings, they won’t earn their respect and trust, both of which are needed if employees are to perform at their best.

It’s not just that behaviors matter in order to create a sense of belonging for employees and students. Positive, learning behaviors are an essential part of the conditions needed for students and employees to learn. It’s tough to learn if you’re fearful of making mistakes, if you feel judged, and if you don’t trust that the adults around you care about you as a person.

Leaders have to set the standard. That is, teachers are often expected to collaborate with their colleagues, yet they can’t be the only ones expected to do so; they may observe that collaboration isn’t modeled at the top. Principals, public safety professionals, food service workers, and bus drivers may perform their roles outside of the classroom, but that doesn’t mean they should behave in ways that undermine what goes on inside of it.

What shadow is your senior team casting? What behaviors would you like to see change in the group you lead or influence?  How do you need to show up differently to cast that shadow? What are the students in your district imitating based on your and your teammates' behaviors?

If your goal is to get more kids in your district learning, deal yourself into the same game you’re asking employees and students to play. A winning district culture, one that can fuel learning and performance, starts at the top. Leaders must be seen as living the values and walking the talk. Behavior counts.

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