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“Know Thyself” The Importance of Self-Analysis for the School/Community Leader

Module by: J. Craig Coleman. E-mail the author

Summary: The goal of our lesson in this module is to make you aware of the importance of the role of the leader (i.e., superintendent, principal, school/parent liaison, etc.) in community relationships. A major factor in the understanding of the role of the leader is an ability to come to terms with your philosophies, beliefs, and values associated with school and community relationships. In other words, you have to “know thyself” before you will be able to build the relationships necessary for successful school and community relationships.

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This module has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and sanctioned by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a scholarly contribution to the knowledge base in educational administration.

Objectives

At the conclusion of this module, you will have developed your personal philosophy of leadership pertaining to the role of the leader in school/community relationships. You will also be able to analyze and engage in critical reflection of your actions in planning, implementing, and evaluating a comprehensive community relations plan.

Introduction

Have you ever taken a moment to really reflect and ponder what your values and beliefs are concerning education? Can you articulate your philosophy of leadership? Do you have an idea of what you want a school to become under your leadership? If you have not taken the time to really gain a grasp of what you believe and what your goal is for a school, you will have a hard time ever knowing the path you should take to get there. This is true of leadership for parent and community involvement, as well. What are your thoughts about school/community involvement? Do you value the relationship between the two? Why or why not? I suggest that you have to understand your own values and philosophies before you can lead a school. Otherwise, you are upon an unknown road without a map. Your values and philosophies serve as a guide or a roadmap to lead you and others where you want to be.

The Leader’s Role in the School/Community Relationship

According to Marzano (2003), parent and community involvement is critical to the success of schools today. No longer can the school work in isolation. The diversity of the student population and the challenges that are present for today’s educators are creating an environment that is reliant upon parent and community involvement. So, how does the leader help in creating this parent and community involvement? Marzano noted that there are three features of parent and community involvement: communication, participation, and governance. The school leader has the unique ability to influence all three of these features; however, the school leader must have an understanding of his/her own philosophy of leadership, communication, and parent and community involvement before they will be able to lead others in this effort.

So, what do you really know about yourself? What do you value? What is your leadership style, and how do you communicate? In order to know the answers to these questions, you will need to have the ability to self-analyze and reflect upon your actions, values, and philosophies associated with school leadership.

The Reflection Cycle

So, what is reflection, and why should I be involved in reflection activities? Because the role of principal is challenging and demanding it is often difficult for principals to find time to step back and reflect upon their actions. However, research suggests that effective principals take the time to do just that (Brown & Irby, 2001). These authors further asserted that self-assessment is critical for professional growth, and determined six commonalities among reflective administrators:

  1. View self-assessment and reflection as priorities for school improvement.
  2. Recognize that external and internal challenges result in growth.
  3. Intentionally engage in activities aimed at challenging current beliefs and practice and expanding understanding.
  4. Understand that change is inevitable.
  5. Recognize that chaos often accompanies change.
  6. Share understandings with colleagues. (pp. 27-29)

By participating in self-reflection and self-analysis, school administrators may be able to gain a better understanding of their actions thus providing professional growth in the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to inform their practice.

Now, how do I go about reflecting? Again, Brown and Irby have found that reflective administrators utilize reflection as a means of self-improvement. These authors have also identified a cycle of stages that occur during reflection. This cycle utilizes five steps or stages and includes the following: select, describe, analyze, appraise, and transform. In each of the stages, the administrator practices reflective exercises about their particular goals or proficiencies that they are attempting to develop.

Step 1: Select—In selecting, the administrator selects an artifact that is representative of the goal or proficiency that he/she is attempting to demonstrate and the growth that has been shown towards reaching that goal. The artifact should answer the question, “What artifacts reveal the most about my capabilities or skills in this area?” (p. 30).

Step 2: Describe—This step is where the administrator give the who, what, when, and where of the artifact. This is a description of the “circumstances, situation, or events related to the experience” (p. 30).

Step 3: Analyze—You have to dig deeper in this step. This steps answers the question why and how the artifact represents “events, leadership issues or beliefs, circumstances, and/or decisions” (p. 32).

Step 4: Appraise—According to Brown and Irby, this is where the actual reflection begins. This step is where the leader “interprets the events, evaluates the impact and appropriateness of his or her action(s)m and relates them to his or her values and beliefs” (p. 32).

Step 5: Transform—In this step, the leader is actually taking the reflection used in step 4 and using it to plan for improvement and growth and to transform practice.

Leaders must complete the reflection cycle in order to plan for their personal and professional growth and improvement. Doing so will allow them to lead others to growth and improvement, as well.

Communication

Let’s return to Marzano for a moment. In his book, What Works in Schools (2003), he stated that parent and community involvement is a critical component in school improvement. Within this component, he determined that communication was one of three features of parent and community involvement, and one that the school leader is able to have influence over. So, how are you as a communicator? I know, everyone thinks that they are pretty good when it comes to communication, but how would others rate you?

Often, communication is one of the most cited problems in schools. Why is this? I believe that the answer to this question lies in what we believe communication to be. What do we mean by communication? According to Lunenburg and Ornstein (2004), “The communication process involves the exchange of information between a sender and a receiver” (p. 210). Therefore, communication is a two-way process. One way is how the sender sends the information. The next is how the receiver receives and decodes the message sent. These authors further described the communication process as a series of steps including: developing an idea, encoding, transmitting, receiving, decoding, and acting. Within this process, the sender develops the idea, encodes the information and transmits that information to the receiver. After transmission, the receiver receives, decodes, and acts upon the information sent. After acting, feedback is provided to the sender.

So, have you ever thought that all of these steps are taking place when you communicate? How well do you participate in the process as both a sender and receiver? You have to know a little about your style of communication and how good a listener you are.

Participation

What do you believe parent and community members should do to participate in schools? Should they only be at the school to serve as a room mother or volunteer to do bulletin boards, or do you feel that parent and community members could have a valuable impact upon the students in your school? What do you feel is the role of the school and the school leader especially to encourage parent and community involvement?

Again, we find that parent and community involvement is imperative if we are to improve schools (Marzano, 2003). This being the case, you, as a school leader, will need to understand your own feelings and philosophies about parent and community involvement in order to develop a plan for their participation in your school.

Governance

Part of the ability of parent and community members to participate in schools relies upon the beliefs and philosophies of the school leaders concerning governance issues in the school. Does the governance system that is in place encourage parent and community participation in decision making? Does the school value the opinions and ideas of parents and community members? Most importantly, how do you feel about parent and community involvement in your decision making process? The times of the principal managing the school and having all the answers are long gone. Effective schools leaders have the help and encourage the help of all stakeholders in the decision making process. In order to be effective, you will have to do so. Ubben, Hughes, and Norris (2004) have stated that “The principal’s role as a community relations expert has expanded and pressures have mounted for more effective ways to communicate with the ‘publics’ comprising the school community” (p. 318). You, as the school leader, will have to become a community relations expert and help to develop a system of governance in your school that will encourage public participation in the school.

Conclusion

We have seen that parent and community involvement is a characteristic of schools that are having success. Leaders of these schools must realize this fact and become experts at communicating and encouraging participation of all stakeholders in the school community. You will have to come to an understanding and realization of your personal and professional philosophies of leadership, communication, participation, and governance of the school system. Being a reflective practitioner is one way to help you grow both personally and professionally to meet the goals, values, and objectives that you set for yourself and your school.

Working with the Material

I would like for you to complete a few short assignments to help you in coming to terms with your philosophies and beliefs concerning parent and community involvement and relationships.

  1. Take the Communication Style Survey, developed by Gower training and can be found at http://www.gowertraining.co.uk/pdf%20files/comquest.pdf, and analyze your findings.
  2. Take the Listener Survey, developed by Karen Zupko & Associates and can be found at http://www.karenzupko.com/CourseAlumni/plastics/ListenerSurvey.pdf, and analyze your findings.
  3. Use the steps in the Reflection Cycle and write a reflection for each of the following areas: communication, participation, and governance. Select artifacts that demonstrate how you have met each of these areas and write your reflection concerning these artifacts.
  4. Based upon your findings from the surveys and the reflections that you have written, write your philosophy of leadership in parent and community involvement and relationships. What is your vision for the school in relation to parent and community involvement? What do you believe your role to be in this endeavor?

References

Brown, G., & Irby, B. (2001). The principal portfolio (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.

Lunenburg, F., & Orstein, A. (2004). Educational administration: Concepts and practices (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Ubben, G., Hughes, L., & Norris, C. (2004). The principal: Creative leadership for excellence in schools (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

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