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Effective leaders focus, expert says

December 6, 2016 Bromley Chamberlain, ATA News Staff
Simon Breakspear delivers his keynote address at the 2016 Leadership Essentials for Administrators conference.

To be an effective school leader, you have to focus.

That was the message delivered by Simon Breakspear during his keynote address at the Leadership Essentials for Administrators (LEA) conference, which brought several hundred school administrators to Edmonton’s Fantasyland Hotel Nov. 21 and 22.

“I have been working with new administrators trying to help them focus on the impact they have through their leadership position,” Breakspear explained in an interview following his address.

“So often administrators can get overwhelmed with the demands on them from emails, meetings, from the other adults in the community. Today was really about asking what are the few things we need to do to have a meaningful impact on teaching and learning.”

Breakspear is the founder and CEO of Agile Schools and LearnLabs, a global learning research and design agency. During his speech, Breakspear stressed the importance of separating work life from personal life and recharging in order to enhance one’s teaching and life experience.

Split into two parts, Breakspear’s presentation focused on personal leadership and organizational change. Personal leadership is about being willing to renew one self, simplifying what’s going on and focusing on just a few things, he said.
Creating organizational change, on the other hand, starts with clarifying the desired change, incubating it with a small group of teachers and then moving to amplify that change across the school or across the district.

Leadership development has to be done by the person who is leading, Breakspear said, explaining that this development isn’t just about ideas, but also how they are implemented.

“We did exercises asking what is most important for them to focus on right now, exercises on what could have an impact and a sustainable impact, and what might be areas they need to stop investing time in,” he said.

“Lastly, starting to reflect on what are the big decisions they need to make next. I think working in tables and in pairs is really a great way to articulate what they are learning, what they are challenged by and make some decisions.”

Breakspear also talked about how to plan and execute a busy day.

“Little habits that I see administrators getting into, like having protein bars in the office, having quick and easy ways to eat well when you are on the go. It can suddenly mean that conversation at 2 p.m. that was going to go downhill, you will be able to manage it because you have enough fuel. You are not living off a few cheap coffees and a few biscuits from the common room.”

Another area administrators should focus on is sleep.

“You just have to have a rule. You can’t get under seven hours regularly. There are no people who win in leadership who don’t restock their energy,” he explained. “You have to find ways to renew and it’s the only way.”

Developing habits that allow for energy renewal is key.

“I’ve heard principals say that when they go home, they hang their coats, and mentally say to themselves, “I am putting my job up right now,” he explained. "These little routines, like saying I won’t answer my emails, or I always go home at 4:30 on a Thursday. These little routines, as small as they are, sustain people.” 


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