Karen Capel, an Academic Coordinator and teacher trainer, returns with another guest post for Coordinators and Directors of Study, sharing her thoughts on leadership in schools.
Do you think a good coordinator should motivate and inspire? Then we would agree that an effective coordinator should also be a successful leader.
These two roles are deeply interwoven, complementing and enhancing one another to result in a complete professional who is able to carry out managerial duties outstandingly.
Whether you are a natural leader or you have learned to be one, it is your responsibility as a coordinator to innovate and develop, to focus on people (both staff and students), to inspire trust, and to focus on both short-term and the long-term goals. You must also challenge the status quo in view of achieving your institution’s objectives and providing a better service to students. Therefore, a leader not only does things right but also does the right things. According to the leadership guru Warren Bennis, all of these are characteristics of a leader.
So what type of leader should you be? Hopefully a transformational one, achieving objectives by inspiring your staff and fostering the sense of belonging that will result in the formation of a real team. It is proactivity and the drive for continuous improvement that characterise both transformational leaders and successful coordinators.
The leadership style one follows is, needless to say, highly dependent on personality, though an effort must be made to ensure our staff is given the opportunity to express their ideas and put forward their suggestions, for this is the only way a team can work to its maximum potential and enhance each individual’s unique skills and capabilities. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that even when listening to every member’s opinions and allowing discussion of the different issues on the table, it is the coordinator who should make the final decision in all matters and who will always maintain responsibility for the courses of action decided upon. Only then would you embody a democratic leader who enables teachers to feel trusted and heard while supported and guided toward common goals and objectives. It is our teachers who are in direct contact with students and may therefore be in possession of invaluable information upon which all-important decisions may be taken. It is key to trust our own judgement when taking on employees and pay attention to the professionals in our staff and what they have to contribute, as it is they who should follow the procedures enforced and may come up with alternative and improved ways of dealing with certain issues.
On becoming a coordinator, it is highly plausible that you will encounter members of staff who are supportive and always willing to lend a helping hand, work as a team and back your decisions with a goal of improving the services provided to students, as well as internal procedures and practices; but it is just as plausible that you will encounter teachers who are resistant to change and who will antagonise every decision. It is you as a leader who must find the way to put them on your side by tactfully showing them that you are part of the same team and that each and every decision made has been thoroughly examined, all alternatives considered and every opinion carefully listened to. Once again, democracy is the key. Give these members of the team even more chances to participate and express their opinions and make them feel valued and trusted as professionals. Truly listen to what they have to say, for their ideas and suggestions may be altogether valuable and useful for decision-making, and then make your own decision based on the big picture and all relevant elements, which they might not be aware of. Just make sure you carefully choose your battles and let them win sometimes, as this is the only way they will actually feel you are paying attention to what they have to say.
It is also worth noting that a leader is not someone who is always telling people what they have to do, but someone who subtly makes it clear to everyone what his/her role is and what is expected from him/her. Leaders provide guidelines on how to proceed and accomplish the goals set while fostering teamwork and making employees feel trusted, and are therefore a paramount element for the organisation to achieve efficiency and growth.