The importance of self-reflection as a school leader

By Editor on October 19, 2021 in Leadership

‘How can I know who I am until I see what I do? How can I know what I value until I see where I walk”? Weick, 1995, p 25 (quoted in Leadership for Learning, Issue 1 Winter 2016/17, p4.)

This post is written by Julia Scott, an educator with over 45 years in education.

I think back to the time I knew I wanted to make a difference to kids as part of a senior leadership team. When I finally pushed away those niggling doubts that whispered I couldn’t do it and applied for an Assistant Principal’s job. I was shortlisted, interviewed, and offered the role. I was excited, thrilled and anxious. After all, what did I know? Not nearly enough it turned out!

I was asked recently while working in a school how I would support teachers who were aspiring to be school leaders. Immediately I thought of something I had recently read that resonated with me; ‘act as a leader and then reflect and seek feedback on how you did’ (Leadership for Learning, p4). This article from the Ontario Leadership strategy is a good read for any aspiring school leader, and it advocates that learning by doing is how leaders build their leadership capacity. As teachers seek the more formal roles of school leadership, reflecting on their actions has already started. Often reflection is on the run, and too often it is not deep enough, and certainly not deliberate enough.

Teacher inside empty classroom

Collaborative practice and seeking feedback are essential parts of leadership development. Are you a critical thinker who is deeply reflective? Do you learn from the leadership actions you already do? How do you reflect? The answers to these questions don’t magically appear when you become a school leader, but these questions should be part of your existing tool kit of reflective practice.

The Ontario Leadership Strategy article (p4) provided several questions which provide a framework for self-reflection in the work you do now and in the future. Ask these questions about an activity that you are involved in or about to undergo in your current position. Add to your list:

• “When did I genuinely lead the way?” - What was it and what did I do?

• “When did I develop a vision and involve others in fulfilling it?” How well did I do?

• “When did I challenge current processes or attitudes in a positive way?” What was the impact of my actions?

• “When did I empower others to succeed?” or “What was I doing to make that happen?”

• “What adjustments did I make when my actions didn’t get the results I hoped for?”

• What did my colleagues say about this activity? Did I even ask for any feedback?

There is no ready-made, one size fits all way of leading a school. These reflective questions provide a framework to help deepen one’s thinking. For me collaboration is about thinking for yourself and working together.

Thinking back to my days as a DP, I don’t think I did nearly enough reflecting on my practice and ensuring it was a part of my way of working.

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