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A Personal Reflection Paper on the Importance of Self-Analysis of Communication and Listening Skills for the School Leader

Module by: Stanley Jones. E-mail the author

Summary: In Summer 2007, a Virginia Tech Doctoral cohort completed EDAE 6924, School Community Partnerships. Here is a personal reflection authored by Stanley Jones.

Communication Style and Listener Self-Survey Results

Results of the Communication Style survey developed by Gower training are as follows for each category: a score of 9 for the category entitled Battler; a score of 16 for Helper; and, a score of 12 for Thinker. According to survey interpretations, my greatest strengths are characteristics that include the qualities of trust, optimism, loyalty, caring, and helpfulness, devotion accepting, polite and adaptable. Liabilities of this communication style are the risk that others may perceive my style as impractical, wishful, passive, self-denying, and submissive. Additionally, the Helper must be cautious about expecting others to be as concerned about how others feel as the Helper does; being quick to blame himself for anything that goes wrong; and, struggling to maintain harmony at the expense of facing the facts.

The Listener Survey developed by Karen Zupko and associates indicate that my listening skills are well developed. The total score based on the self-assessment is 74.

As I reflect on my own beliefs about communication and listening, I am in agreement the interpretations of both surveys with regard to my own values about community relations. I believe firmly in the ideals of trust, adaptability and acceptance. My communication style is one in which I seek and respect the input of others in an effort to build consensus and cooperation when implementing a particular practice or strategy, or when addressing a problem or determining a solution. I have often said that humans are simply designed to listen more than we speak because as a species we have two ears and one mouth. While I consider myself to be an effective communicator, I am at the very least my own worst critic with regard to my belief that it is an area in which I can and should constantly improve. Communicating effectively is extremely difficult task that seems to become more complicated when one considers the volume and variation of constituents who make up an organization with the complexities of a large, comprehensive school community.

Personal Reflection on Communication

As a school leader, I believe that communication is the most critical component of any relationship and also equally one of the most difficult tasks facing school leaders. In the text, Lunenburg and Ornstein (2004) characterize communication as the process involving the exchange of information between the sender and a receiver.1Lunenburg, F., & Orstein, A. (2004). Educational administration: Concepts and practices (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth as cited in Coleman, J. Craig (2007). “Know Thyself” The Importance of Self- Analysis for the School/Community Leader. Version 1.1, p. 3. While I have rarely considered communications in the terms describe by the authors, I have intentionally pondered the challenges and processes through which we communicate. In the school setting, I am most comfortable communicating individually with students, parents, teachers, assistant principals and the host of various individuals and groups who comprise the school community. I believe that my personality, interpersonal skills, educational training, and personal life experiences have enabled me to effectively communicate with people in meaningful ways. In one-on-one communication situations the exchange of information between the sender and receiver is immediate, personal, and both parties have the advantage of interpreting non-verbal cues and clarifying verbal exchanges. One-on-one communication also provides the unique opportunity to build a meaningful relationship between the sender and receiver because of its personal nature. It is fair to say that this form of communication enables both the sender and receiver to address and clarify how messages should be interpreted and to use techniques to enhance the meaningfulness message.

However, the demands, duties and responsibilities of the principalship requires school leaders to be able to effectively communicate with large groups of constituents through mass mailings, electronic correspondence (email, websites, etc), and through school publications and materials. This form of communication can be considered two-way communication in which neither the sender nor receiver is able to provide immediate feedback. In practice, large scale communication is useful in sending messages that are informational or materials that may be used as a reference for the receiver. Newsletters, announcements, policies, and procedures are informational items that are often required by law, policy mandates or as simply as a matter of good practice. However, the effectiveness of this type of communications is limited. Studies suggest that these programs provide little opportunity for parents to respond (Melarango, Keesling, Lyons, Robbins, and Smith, 1981).2Melarango, Keesling, Lyons, Robbins, and Smith, (1981) as cited in Marzano, Robert A. (2003) What Works in Schools, Translating Research Into Action. p. 48.

As I reflect on the importance of communication, I am convinced that the foundation of any meaningful relationship is trust; and, trust is the result of effective communication and investment in building relationships. In Powerful Conversations, Phil Harkins, explains that “trust is most frequently experienced between individuals, on a one-to-one basis. Trust also lives in the relationship between a leader and a group of followers.”3Harkins, P. (1999). Powerful Conversations. How High Impact Leaders Communicate. p. 93 In summary, Harkins (1999) states, “trust is the operating principle through which organizations foster openness and information sharing in order to make the most expeditious decisions, uncovers problems, and convert ideas into action.” (p. 14).4Harkins, P. (1999). Powerful Conversations. How High Impact Leaders Communicate. p. 14 I am in complete agreement with the assertion that trust is a core value and essential component of leadership and I am committed to building trust by being honest, candid, and avoiding hidden agenda’s. Trust is an investment that I make in others and that others make in me as the leader.

Personal Reflection on Participation

It seems that the more I read about leadership, the more I hear about the importance of relationships in organizations. In chapter four, of Michael Fullan’s, Leading in A Culture of Change, he states, “If moral purpose is job one, relationships are job two, as you can’t go anywhere without them.” (p. 51).5Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. p.51 In Powerful Conversations, Phil Harkins states, “a Powerful Conversation produces three outputs: an advanced agenda, shared learning, and a strengthened relationship.” (p. 5).6Harkins, P. (1999). Powerful Conversations. How High Impact Leaders Communicate. p. 5 It has been my experience that forging relationships with others is one of the most, if not the most effective skill a leader may need to strategically move an organization forward. I am committed to building relationships, building trust and developing a team within any organization where I am in a leadership role.

Relationships and trust are inherent concerns for school leaders because parents place there most valuable resource in the hands of school, their children. Because I believe that schools are complex organizations in which the quality of relationships are critical to the success of the organization, I used the immersion process in my first year as a principal as a method for creating high quality relationships. Through the immersion process, I met with nearly 150 teachers, staff members, parents, students and community members individually to discuss the school’s strengths, challenges, weaknesses, liabilities, and using structured questions, I discussed those things that needed to change. The immersion process enabled me to begin to develop relationships with a diverse group of school community leaders.

When I reflect on those important meetings and the relationships that began to develop, it is amazing how quickly those relationships began to have a positive impact on the school culture and climate with regard to school improvement. It is this kind of “emotional intelligence” that is critical in working with people and creating a culture of collaboration. Many of these relationships have led to positive changes in school climate, policies, and practice because the relationships were founded on mutual respect, a deep sense of trust, and a willingness to work as a team.

The ability to involve people significantly in the school community and establish meaningful relationships with people is an essential skill for any school leader. I believe that many if not all of the solutions to the problems that school as organizations face can be found within the collective wisdom and knowledge of teachers, parents, and community members. According to Eaker, R., DuFour, R., & DuFour, R. (2002), “Transformational leadership implies that effective leaders change the lives of those around them.7Dufour, R. , Burnette R, and Eaker R. (2002). Getting Started: Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities. p. 23 They motivate and inspire. They get those with whom they work to accomplish things that seem impossible. If the central purpose of schools is learning, who is in the best position to transform students’ lives, motivate and inspire students, and get students to do things they never thought they could do? The answer is clear—teachers!” (p. 23). I believe that I can find a solution to teacher isolation and develop greater opportunities for teacher to collaborate through the collective wisdom of teachers.

I am committed to developing relationships with teachers and others that are open, encouraging, motivating and challenging. In my opinion, this is exactly why relationships and participation by a variety of constituents are the most essential variables in determining the success of a school. In the final analysis, it is the collective work and responsibility of the entire school community that will influence the degree to which all children are successful. It is imperative that parents as well as other participate meaningfully in school governance and decision making.

Personal Reflection on Governance

As has been stated previously, I believe that the many if not all of the solutions to the problems that schools as organizations face can be found within the collective wisdom and knowledge of teachers, parents, and community members. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest challenges facing traditionally structured high schools. Typically, there is little time built into the regular school day for teachers to collaborate or work as part of a team. In my school we have created a number of school improvement teams and subcommittees to collaborate on a variety of problems, however, these teams are able to meet maybe once month at best. I agree with Eaker, R., DuFour, R., & DuFour, R. (2002), suggestions that “The challenge facing leaders in this area is not creating teams, but rather in providing the focus, time, support, and parameter critical to effective teamwork.” (p. 40).8Dufour, R. , Burnette R, and Eaker R. (2002). Getting Started: Reculturing Schools to Become Professional Learning Communities. p. 40

In an effort to address this issue in my school, a team of consisting of teachers, parents, administrators, department heads and guidance staff, have built strategies for ways to develop an interdisciplinary team of teachers to work exclusively with a common core of ninth graders. This effort is on-going and a deliberate action aimed at finding ways to build collaboration into the day-to-day decisions of the school day and to address the problem of ninth grade failure. Shared planning and decision making is important to me because it is an essential strategy for helping us address what we want students to know and be able to do, how we will know if they have learned it, and what we will do if they do not learn the material. More importantly, I believe that giving time to teachers and parents for collaboration is essential to our efforts to streamlining the relationship between teaching, learning and student achievement.

Philosophy of Leadership

In conclusion, I wrote that in my view leadership, is about three things: trust and relationships, problems and solutions, and decisions and consequences. Using the foundation described here and my own personal reflections on leadership, I offer the following ten leadership commitments that define who I am as an instructional leader and serve as guiding principles for my continued growth and development as an effective school leader. My leadership commitments are: building trust; moral purpose; building meaningful relationships; shared decision making and responsibility; data and solution driven decision making; understanding and accepting change as a process; celebrating success; finding meaning and joy in the work; respecting teaching as a profession; and, finding and maintaining balance between work and family demands.

As I continue to evolve as an instructional leader, I anticipate that my collective experiences, beliefs, and ideas may influence my own perceptions of my effectiveness as a leader as well as the perceptions of others. In the final analysis, I hope that I will lead in such a manner that the places that I have had the privilege of working in will better as a result of my having an opportunity to serve others. It is difficult to concisely define leadership because leading and leadership in theory and practice is complex and multidimensional. Stated another way, I believe that leaders have an obligation to do what is right, work collaboratively and cooperatively with others to resolve problems and find solutions, and help other focus on “keeping the main thing the main thing” (Covey, 1999).9Covey, S (1999). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Of the many dimensions of leadership, nothing is more important to me than trust and relationships. In a school, this translates into relationships with students, teachers, parents, custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, businesses – everyone.

It is the quality of the relationships with everyone that will ultimately determine the success or failure of any leader or leadership effort. Without trust, it seems to me that it would be difficult for any leader to develop as sense of shared responsibility. In Results, The Key to Continuous School Improvement, Schmoker states, “schools improve when purpose and effort unite.10Schmoker, M. (1999). Results, The Key to Continuous School Improvement. p. 111 One key is leadership that recognizes its most vital function: to keep everyone’s eyes on the prize of improved student learning.”11Schmoker, M. (1999). Results, The Key to Continuous School Improvement. p. 111 I believe that any successful relationship requires mutual trust and open communication. As a school leader, I believe that the team is everything. I agree with Schmoker’s assertions that “people accomplish more together than in isolation”. It is my ultimate vision for my school, parent and community involvement will be the very essence of purpose and effort uniting.

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