Reactive vs. Proactive: Lessons I’ve Learned From The Armchair
Reactive: Done in response to a problem or situation: reacting to problems when they occur instead of doing something to prevent them.
School administrators are not expected to predict the future, but they are expected to be prepared for it. Without discernment and a game plan ready to go at all times, a principal leaves herself vulnerable to making hasty, and therefore uninformed, decisions. These “snap” solutions are rarely recorded and are even less likely to be communicated to staff and necessary stakeholders, thus eroding the concept of shared leadership. A communication breakdown from the top creates an environment of uncertainty and invites rogue behavior. If clairvoyance isn’t an option, how can a principal truly be prepared for what’s to come?
Proactive: Controlling a situation by making things happen or by preparing for possible future problems.
Lesson 1: Experience
Superior to anything I have learned from research or professors is the experience I have gained through holding supporting roles in various schools. These opportunities have allowed me to work out the “kinks” without wearing the crown, so to speak. Even more valuable is the time I have spent in the war room with principals in order to understand the issues they face on a daily basis, both immediate and long-term. Keeping note of your observations will undoubtedly help you in your quest to be proactive. Keep your eyes open.
Lesson 2: Organization/Attention to Detail
The logistics of daily school operation can often be a Petri dish for reactive behavior. These are the procedural things that all stakeholders need to understand in order to ensure their school is conducive for high performance. How to schedule students, what is the discipline plan, how do we report safety concerns, how do we request supplies, where do field trip forms go, etc. Simple really, but if you expect your staff to follow protocol, you need to have protocols in place.
Lesson 3: Know Your Weakness(es)
An effective leader knows her shortcomings in order to find the right people who can strengthen them. If school culture is not your bag, you better have a “heavy” on staff to stand in your gap. If staying organized is not a priority, you may want to consider an assistant who holds that tight. If praise and recognition of staff is not your love language, find someone who operates that way. A principal cannot be everything to everyone, but you can align your team to create an atmosphere of support and excellence.
Lesson 4: Collaboration
From time to time the principal will be called upon to make THE decision on school matters. That is the nature of the job. However, a proactive leader will have more opportunities to share that decision-making with key stakeholders. Getting out in front of issues coming down the pike will allow time to hear from others and problem-solve using several perspectives. All members of the school community want to be heard. The more often they are given a voice, the more support you will have behind you. Support breeds trust. And once you have built trust….well, you can afford to take a few hits.
Let me know your thoughts. What are the keys to being a proactive, not reactive, school leader?