School leaders spend a lot of time developing strategic plans, setting goals and writing action plans. Often the best laid plans and intentions are often derailed and not realised owing to the constant struggle to maintain focus and keep on track. This, to a large extent, is precipitated by the number of ‘other’ matters that rear their head on a day to day basis, pulling school leaders away from key school improvement initiatives to respond to the various fires that they are asked to put out.
Though it is not just the fires that school leaders are being asked to respond to, with each fire labelled as ‘for urgent attention’ or ‘priority’ by those who bring particular issues to light. Teachers, and leaders for that matter, have a habit of creating initiatives on their own without consideration of a bigger picture. These initiatives ,as well intended as they may be, contribute significantly to workload and burnout with teachers pulled in all directions without rhyme nor reason.
The role, for any leader at any level in a school is to carefully manage how many initiatives and problems are being addressed at any one time. This means making a lot of very important decisions, some of which may not be popular, in order to prevent chaos, angst and frustration.
I have often referred to the analogy of school leadership being about ‘Herding Cats’ and that there needs to be enough flexibility in our schools for autonomy and trust in the professionalism of teachers to do their thing but at the same time move everyone forward in the same direction, supporting the overarching improvements that are part of the school’s strategic plan.
With so many items for discussion and decision that can be placed on the stable, and with full consensus not always achievable, school leadership teams must be grounded in their decision-making.
Schools, therefore, require decision-making principles to navigate through wave upon wave of requests for decisions to be made whether it be starting initiatives, purchasing and allocating resources, or solving problems. In particular, these principles should be referred and adhered to in making decisions when there is disagreement and no clear path to resolution.
Having read Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, 3 principles should be enough. Reflecting on my own school’s practice, there are certainly some principles that we use more than any other, though presently, it is difficult to say whether these are known to everyone or used with explicit intention.
In this, lies the challenge, establishing a set of explicit decision-making principles that ground us in everyday conversation in meetings and working with all stakeholders in our school communities. Most of all, these principles need to align with a school’s mission, vision and values, which in turn will support the development of a school culture grounded in purpose where culture will not eat the strategy for breakfast.