I have been in school leadership for over two decades and, throughout this time, I have met thousands of parents. Although parents are rarely thought about as leaders, they lead their families. As both a parent and a school leader, I see many similarities between the roles, so I wanted to share four key lessons about leadership I have been taught by effective parents.
Lesson one: Parents/Leaders are Sacred Storytellers
Strong parents keep and share family stories to determine the family's values – the things they believe make for a good life and a good world. Some of the great storylines I have heard from parent leaders include:
In our family, we always try our best. I might not have been the best at x but…
In our family, we give people the benefit of the doubt. That's good for us and good for them.
In our family, we help each other out, so it's your turn to…
In our family, we ask for help to deal with things that scare us. Even though this is hard, I know you can.
These storylines function to strengthen the family’s values. One of the roles of a principal is to be the chief teller of stories. I take inspiration from our founders, the Sisters of the Church, who were committed to providing a wide outlook, stimulating thought and effort and awakening students’ varied interests. They believed young women should work hard to make the most of their opportunities and use them to make society better. I am charged with keeping this story alive and making it relevant to the young students we now grow, develop and support.
Lesson two: Parents/Leaders are Natural Collaborators
The most effective parents I have partnered with are collaborative. They understand that educating a child is a shared and complex task, they advocate for their child in ways that seek to draw in a variety of people, and they bring positive dispositions that help others to support their child.
Likewise in contemporary education, the most effective school leaders are collaborative. You cannot force a vision onto people, you have to connect the vision to people's values and work together to bring it to life.
Lesson three: Parents/Leaders Teach People How to Rethink Challenges
Many parents have high expectations for their children, as they should, however the most effective parents I know support their children to grow into those expectations. I also have high expectations for my children but, like many parents, I have learned that high hopes and plans don't necessarily bring those expectations to life.
Hard work helps but can still sometimes be met with frustration or disappointment. Effective parent leaders model practical ways to think about pain, frustration and disappointment. They also teach their children perspective and problem-solving skills, allowing them to work towards laying the foundations for long-term success.
School leaders need to do the same. They must have high expectations, as well as ready support. When things don't work, leaders must teach constructive thinking and mindsets and model that it is possible to flip problems and create a positive future.
Lesson Four: Parents/Leaders Model the Way
Most of us learn this the hard way. Sometimes the toddler in the back seat of your car says something that sounds just like you and you suddenly realise your children have surveillance cameras pointed at you 24/7. It is bittersweet knowing your way of being is contagious. What a responsibility!
School leadership is the same. Your energy is contagious and people are watching you, consciously and unconsciously, all the time. If you get your way of being right, it can permeate your culture and you can orchestrate a powerful good that can change the world.
School leaders have much to learn from the many effective parents they encounter. I have surfaced four lessons here that we can learn from and I’m wondering which ones do you think I have missed?