As a teacher, I often said that there are two kinds of administrators: those you work with and those you work around. In my more than four decades in education, I’m afraid most of the administrators I worked for fell into the latter category. Often they are good managers who impose order on a building or district. They oversee the daily operation of the schools while sticking to a budget. They hire and fire employees and preside over meetings. They make the buses run on time. But they’re not the educational leaders and mentors that I and most teachers truly want and need, and as the kind of teacher who tried to be innovative and take risks, I found myself hiding from these administrators rather than seeking their advice or feedback on my work. But occasionally I had the opportunity to work for administrators who were true educational leaders, and they all became mentors who had a profound effect on my teaching practice.
In the book Hacking Leadership: 10 Great Ways Leaders Inspire Learning That Teachers, Students, and Parents Love, the authors, Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis offer advice for administrators who strive to be that kind of leader. They identify problems administrators will encounter in their schools and provide ways to address these problems that will promote a culture of creativity and collaboration and lead to better communication among teachers, students, and community. The book is part of the Hack Learning Series published by Mark Barnes, and it follows a format where each chapter identifies a problem and offers a practical solution (the hack). The chapters also include immediate and long-term steps school leaders can take, as well as ideas for overcoming pushback and examples of what success looks like.
The beauty of this book lies in its practicality. All ten hacks are steps any administrator can take. Many of them seem obvious (get out of your office and into classrooms) and others are solutions to problems that school leaders might not have identified yet (use social media to tell your school’s story before someone else does). Adopting even one of the ten strategies is bound to have a positive impact.
Much of the book is about building relationships and shaping culture, and in the introduction, the authors note “…the school leader sets the tone and has the greatest single influence on a school’s positive or negative culture.” I’ve often thought the greatest single step we can take toward real education reform is to make school a place where teachers and students want to be every day. The authors devote a chapter (Hack 2) to culture, but the other hacks are related to it. Certainly building relationships (Hack 3), centering school around the children (Hack 6), and helping educators learn from each other (Hack 9) are all steps that will lead to a positive school culture.
I think we often underestimate the effect that leadership (or sometimes lack thereof) has on a school or a district’s success. School reformers usually focus on teacher quality, but that’s just one small piece of the puzzle. There will always be great teachers and not-so-great teachers, but leaders affect the school as a whole and are responsible for students’ overall school experience. The hacks described in this book are steps administrators can take to become the kind of leader folks will work with, rather than around.