One major goal of TheSchoolHouse302 is to communicate the simplicity of excellence. In order to gain a better understanding of how leaders grow and practice their craft, we connect with folks through our one thing series, through interviews, and by writing about our findings and posting podcasts. Hopefully, you’re finding our work as beneficial to your growth as we’ve found it to be for our own. Recently, we asked some highly respected and effective principals two very direct questions:
- What do you do to get better as a leader each and every day?
- What is/are the most important decisions you have made this school year.
This post focuses on Dr. Stanley Spoor, principal of Howard High School of Technology, located in Wilmington, Delaware. We asked him both questions, and this is what he said:
TheSchoolHouse302: What do you do to get better as a leader each and every day?
Dr. Spoor: In the field of leadership, one of the big questions is whether leaders are born or made. I tend to think the answer is a little of both. Watching even the youngest of children play, one can see that certain people seem to exhibit natural leadership behaviors. But certainly through study, trial and error, and intentional focus, people can grow their leadership abilities.
For me, becoming a better leader each and every day is one of my core professional priorities. By establishing that as one of my core priorities and having a deliberate plan for doing so, I firmly believe that I have grown and continue to grow as a leader.
My plan for developing my leadership starts with mindset and goal setting. Quite simply, I have a strong desire to continuously improve my leadership and am therefore always looking for ways to do it, no matter how big or small. While that sounds simple, maybe even trivial, I think it is fundamental. The development of any skill, leadership or otherwise, typically doesn’t happen by chance. One must have the desire backed by a strong plan of action in order to do so. My own plan is multi-faceted but observation, reading, practice, and reflection are four key components.
One can learn so much by simply observing others in action. I try to never miss an opportunity to watch leaders in various industries and settings go about their business. I’m looking for not only the ‘big’ things but also the subtleties of their actions. What do they do? How do people respond? Are there any takeaways for me in relation to my own leadership? Like observation, the reading of a wide range of material from Twitter posts to journal articles, books, and more provides an opportunity for me to learn from others. Whether it is a book on leadership by a renowned guru or a blog post written by a ‘regular citizen,’ there are opportunities to gain insight into how people think and operate, what motivates them and more.
All of these things are important for leaders and reading gives me a chance to further explore these areas. The third component of my daily leadership development is practice. I constantly look for opportunities to carry out specific leadership acts and display certain leadership traits. Some of these are tangible while others are not. This where I am able to try some of the things I’ve observed and read. It is the classic case of learning by doing and there is an element of trial and error involved.
The final component is reflection. This is done individually and with my administrative team. Individually, I regularly reflect on the happenings of a given day thinking about how I handled specific situations and where I could have done better. As an administrative team, we have a standing practice of debriefing at many of our team meetings. We debrief all major events, specific situations and other things that arise. This reflection time allows us to analyze the things that went well and not so well and to identify specific areas for improvement the next time the event or situation arises. This stretches us as leaders to do better each time we encounter a given situation. Our unofficial school motto is ‘continuous improvement in all that we do.’ I embrace that in my own actions and try to get a little bit better every day as a leader.
TheSchoolHouse302: What is/are the most important decisions you have made this school year?
Dr. Spoor: The research is very clear on the impact a teacher has on students. It shows that the teacher is the most important in-school factor in student achievement. But as educators we know that a good teacher means so much more to the whole child. A good teacher positively influences not only students’ academic progress but also their social and emotional well-being and much more. Therefore, the most important decision I have made this year is not a single decision but rather several decisions all in the same area, that of personnel.
The most powerful weapon we have in education is not technology, state of the art facilities, canned programs or any of the other myriad of things on which we spend so much money and time. Rather it is the people, namely the teachers and staff of each school. It is for this reason that each personnel decision that I make, particularly hiring decisions, has the potential for huge ramifications, either positively or negatively. A truly high performing teacher has the power to transform so many things within a school and to positively influence others, students and staff alike.
4 Leadership Takeaways:
- He pursues growing as a leader intentionally.
- He approaches learning leadership skills through specific practices—observing others, professional readings, daily discipline, and reflecting on practices.
- He knows that great teachers make the important difference for students and the school community.
- He focuses on hiring decisions as a top priority.
We want to thank Dr. Spoor for taking the time to interview with TheSchoolHouse302 and we encourage you to comment on what he has to offer in this post.
TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple and maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.
T.J. and Joe