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Q&A with Shawn Edwards on setting the tone and culture of your school

We invite Shawn Edwards to share her thoughts on how to lead, and how to build a strong school culture.
Q&A with Shawn Edwards on setting the tone and culture of your school

In our mission to support childhood development, we naturally put most of our focus on building teacher-student relationships. However, the relationships between adults in a school community are absolutely vital to the school's efficacy and growth. We recommend not only building strong connections with your staff and parents, but creating meaningful relationships based on mutual respect and trust.

We invite Shawn Edwards to share her thoughts on how to lead, and how to build a strong school culture. Shawn is currently the Head of School at a LePort Montessori in California, and has been a Head of School for over ten years. She has been involved in school leadership courses offered by the Independent School Management and the National Association of Independent Schools, and has just launched a new consultancy initiative to support schools and parents. She has a BA in Psychology in Human Services, a MA in Transformational Coaching and Leadership, and has an AMI Elementary Diploma. 

 

How can Heads of Schools promote a culture of accountability among their staff?

Teach your staff to understand each other. Who are the power-hungry rebels? The righteous? The people pleasers? The comfort seekers? Self-knowledge is the key to personal growth, and knowledge of your staff will allow you to leverage their strengths.

Stephen Karpman developed a model known as the "drama triangle" which shows us how our natural dispositions can affect the way we behave during stressful situations. He argues that we tend to turn into persecutors, victims, or rescuers. To break these dysfunctional "drama triangles", which don't help anyone, all staff should be committed to the mindset that everyone is doing their job to the best of their ability. No one needs to be saved and no one needs to be rescued. We need to hold ourselves and one another accountable.

 

Can staff meetings help?

Yes. During staff meetings, you can discuss these topics so that you become more aware and more authentic. Take time at the beginning of each meeting to compliment and appreciate one another. Bring up challenges one at a time and allow time to role play and brainstorm solutions. Become a solution-oriented team where everyone’s value is recognized and honored and where everyone is expected to continue on a journey of reaching their full potential.

A great book to read as a group, which can be reviewed and practiced together, is Eric Berne's, I'm OK You're OK. This will help improve staff understanding of adult behaviors. 

 

You suggest that it is not only useful to know how we behave in stressful situations, but how others behave when feeling stressed. 

The school environment can be stressful because there are many things happening at once, and we are compelled to delay our adult conversations until the children have gone home. As a leader, it is important to know what your personality tendency is under stress. Do you become controlling? Or do you want to please others or run away, seek comfort, and avoid the unpleasant issues? You may ask yourself these questions and know the answer, but do you know what your behavior invites from others and the huge impact it has on the people you lead? 

If you act superior, you will invite shutdowns and fear from your staff. When you become controlling, you invite rebellion. If you are a people pleaser, your staff will become frustrated because your boundaries are unclear. If you seek comfort, you will invite a lack of trust and respect as you either disappear or lack follow through when people need you most.

Think about the kind of behavior you might be inviting when you are stressed, and consider the impact you could make on the organization. Being honest with your team helps a lot and displays your vulnerable side, which also makes you human and a respected member of your team. Create balance by promoting people to your leadership team who have the strengths you lack.

 

Do you think we tend to judge other people's behavior too quickly? 

Yes, but it takes practice to step away from the situation and think about what each individual’s behavior is telling you.

If a staff member makes you feel annoyed or irritated, perhaps that member of staff is looking for attention. Rather than reacting and giving in to the negative attention-seeking, respond by seeking out that individual when he is not annoying and irritating you and give him some genuine attention in a neutral context. The argumentative team member needs choice and more autonomy and is reacting to your controlling nature. The bully or troublemaker is hurt and feels ignored or undervalued. The underperformer does not feel capable and finds you unapproachable.

Adjust how you interact with these people, now that you know the purpose behind their behaviors. When they “misbehave,” ask yourself what you are inviting and what they need.

 

What makes a Head of School a great leader?

A great leader is a person who is invested in growing, developing, and reaching her full potential. Authentic leaders transform themselves and others, while inauthentic leaders correspond with others on a transactional level. They often fail to build teams, manage effectively, influence, and empower because they fail to inspire others and/or invite their trust.

 

Do you have any advice on how to become an authentic leader?

Authenticity requires constant reflection, practice, and work. Acknowledge and appreciate success, but gather feedback and look for ways to be even more effective and more impactful the next time.

First and foremost, ask yourself, “Was I present, engaged, in touch with my feelings and in good faith with myself?” Good faith implies that the leader’s actions and words were in sync. If we profess to live by certain values and levels of integrity and our actions fail to support that, we are inauthentic and living in bad faith.

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