Leadership Character Reflected in Students by Dr. Toby A. Travis
A challenging area for many school leaders to demonstrate Situational Awareness is in their relationship to students. Often senior-level school leaders have little direct contact with students – unless they are intentional in doing so. The leader’s responsibilities and pressures often absorb his or her time with everything but connecting with students, except in severe discipline situations (e.g. long-term suspensions or possible expulsions). However, Situational Awareness with students is essential.
If students represent and embody the school’s core values and mission, they serve as living examples of the quality of the education and the school’s ability to live up to its commitments. Far more important is student character. When students do not represent the school’s values and mission, as demonstrated by their behavior, speech, or actions – then obviously the level of trust in the school, and leadership, diminishes. Trusted school leaders stay attuned to student character since it is a reflection of the school’s character.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, school leaders cannot and should not attempt to control students – but part of developing student character, especially related to their role as school representatives, is ensuring that expectations are clear, monitored, and supported. For example, students need clear expectations as they participate in on and off campus activities, since they do so as official representatives of the school. Just as Jesus said in Acts 1:8 that “you will be my witnesses” – those of us who identify ourselves as “Christians” do not have an option; simply by identifying ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ, we are His representatives to the world. In a similar and certainly less significant way, our students, simply based upon their enrollment, are representatives of the school. Thus, many schools include parameters around student participation in events and activities. Students must assure the school that they understand their role as representatives and are committed to meeting any expectations made while in that role.
Trusted school leaders work to ensure that the school’s admissions program values student character above student competence. Schools must also ensure that children admitted can and will embrace the role of representative. This involves very clear communication of expectations with the child and parents prior to enrollment; followed-up with frequent, authentic conversations around that commitment – breeding a culture of students who identify themselves as character references of the school. Many schools require a signed statement of acknowledgement from parents and students at the beginning of each new school year, and address this expectation during annual orientation sessions. Others conduct formal ceremonies at the start of each year, where new members of the student body make public declarations of their loyalty and commitment to the values of the school.
Bottom-line: students reflect the character of the school’s leader. Thus, it is the responsibility of those leaders to maintain awareness of the character of their students, and to ensure to the greatest extent possible that support structures, protocols, and practices are in place to encourage, guard, and protect the values of the school. When they do so, those leaders (and their schools) experience a higher level of trust within their communities.
©2017 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.