By Amy R. Smith
’Everything rises and falls on leadership.‘
Some say good leaders are born, not made. If that were true, there would be no point to investigating the development of leaders or the concept of leadership. We could just sit still until a leader showed up and then follow that person. That doesn't seem to be a very practical plan; how long can we wait? There are significant issues facing education, and we need to be building leaders and understanding what it means to lead now.
Being a bit of a political junkie, I spend a good deal of time following national politics. I read the online newspapers and websites as well as watch many of the television shows featuring talking heads. While sifting through all this information, it doesn't take long to recognize that effective leadership is a key ingredient missing in our political arena. While there are many who portray themselves as leaders and who are busy at work, too often nothing changes and nothing seems to get accomplished.
This phenomenon is not only true in politics; it's true in education as well. I suspect most of us have found ourselves in situations where the leadership of the building or district wasn't effective. The symptoms of poor leadership can vary from building to building (e.g., too many discipline referrals, poor academic achievement, high dropout rate), but the results are the same. The lack of strong leadership results in a school that struggles and where the students, staff, and community suffer as a result. Attempting to change the failing systems and improve results within schools with weak leadership is extremely difficult.
My position as an educational consultant for the training arm of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Special Education has allowed me to work with many different school districts across eastern Pennsylvania. While working with these districts, the characteristic most consistent in successful schools is strong leadership. Visions for the future and the methods employed to attain desired results may differ, but strong leadership is always a key ingredient for success. As school psychologists, our professional development tends to focus on honing our skills in the tools of the trade—certainly time well spent and our responsibility as professionals. But by focusing on developing leadership skills and promoting our role as leaders in our buildings, as well as the field of education, we will strengthen our impact and serve our profession, our students, and their families well. At a time when leadership is needed, we are faced with an opportunity to become a more vocal presence, share our skills, and be viewed as vital members of our building and district teams.
There will be many activities through the year that will focus on leadership. In the fall, the school psychology community will gather to participate in the 2012 School Psychology Futures Conference. The goal of the Futures Conference is to facilitate local, national, and international conversations; collect information; and collaborate on the future of our profession. For the past year, eight professional associations have worked cooperatively to develop three events that will focus on the themes of leadership, advocacy, and critical skills. These online events are meant to promote collaboration and result in meaningful action plans. Visit the Futures Conference website (http://www.indiana.edu/~futures) for more information.
The leadership of NASP is currently working to update the association's strategic plan. Written every 5 years, the strategic plan is meant to guide leaders in their decisions regarding the direction of the association and the use of its resources. This work has been ongoing for the past year. Input from many representative groups from NASP was sought and is being used to develop the plan. The strategic plan is meant to chart a course for NASP and to cause us to consider what we want to see occur in the next 5 years—to be more proactive than reactive in our decisions.
During our convention in Seattle, we will explore the many ways school psychologists can develop leadership skills and why it is important to do so. We will offer a strand featuring the work of the alumni from our Minority Scholarship Program. It will highlight the contributions being made to the field by these new leaders and show how we have much to learn from them.
I don't believe you need to be born a leader in order to function as a leader. But you do need to be deliberate in your actions and intentions if you want people to follow. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher captured the nature of leadership nicely when she said, “Being a leader is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are one, you aren't.” This year, let's explore what it means to build a leader and what it means to be a building leader.
Amy R. Smith is the president of the National Association of School Psychologists.