Effective School Leadership

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It’s Friday night, and I’m at Judy Guild’s house discussing the future of Brimmer and May, an independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts where she serves as the new head of school.

We chat about the School’s iPad pilot program, and what this means for the future of teaching and learning. We also discuss a growing trend in online learning, as well as how technology, if used properly, can significantly aid differentiated instruction and personalized learning. Guild is engaged, fully plugged-in to current academic trends.

I graduated from Brimmer and May in 2002, and I’ve known Guild since high school. In fact, my junior year she served as my AP Literature teacher, while also acting as the assistant head of school. Guild is among the smartest, most disciplined and caring educators I’ve ever met. It’s because of her that I fell in love with Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell, even though my academic interests eventually drove me toward history. But Guild is that rare teacher who makes the most uninterested student love to learn, and her positive influence inspired me to pursue teaching as a career.

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As I sit in Guild’s living room, I also realize something else about this amazing woman—she epitomizes the very definition of an effective educational leader.

“School leaders today must have the tools to respond with alacrity and dexterity to emerging trends and policy changes, and must be trained not only in decision-making, but in effective communication, analysis, and networking,” writes Matthew Lynch, author of A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories.

Guild is all of these things. She’s a terrific communicator, and unlike many people in positions of power, she’s smart enough to ask not only for advice, but also criticism from those who, in certain situations, might know more about an issue than she.

Interested to learn more about what makes an ideal school leader, I recently spoke with Lynch.

“The best school leaders 100 percent understand that, hey, I need to listen to what my faculty members and my staff have to say,” he says. “Now, a lot of times I’m not going to agree with them, and I’m going to go the other way, but I have to be smart enough to know that, ‘Wow, that sounds like a good idea and I would be foolish not to think about changing the way that we do things.’”

Guild goes Lynch one better by not always waiting for ideas to come to her. In fact, she invited me over to hear my thoughts on change, and the general direction of the School.

In his well-researched book, Lynch does a terrific job of outlining various leadership styles: transformational, instructional, ethical, emotional, entrepreneurial, strategic, invitational, and constructivist.

“The most effective leader is the leader that can take all of these leadership styles that I talked about in the book, and essentially create their own toolkit, and know that, at any given point, they’re going to need to emulate, or they’re going to need to use each individual leadership style, in order to be effective,” he says. “There’s no one leadership style that’s going to get you through your career as an educational leader—or a leader in general.”

Guild has a stellar toolkit, but above all else, I adore her passion for creating a shared vision for the future. It’s no secret that she wants to expand the sports facilities, build additional classroom space, and continue to invest in talented teachers.

It’s her ability to get others equally excited about the future, and to feel a sense of shared responsibility, that makes her such a terrific leader. I’m sure Lynch would agree.

“Creating a place where everybody feels valued, everybody feels as though their opinion is taken seriously, to where they know they are a key piece to what goes on in that particular school and they’re a key piece of student success, and the school’s success—that goes a long way,” Lynch says.

Other than where I teach, I rarely feel more valued than when I visit Brimmer and May. It’s the most caring place I know, and although she’s too humble to admit as much, Guild is mostly responsible for this fact.

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As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

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