In Episode #26 of the Catholic School Matters, Helen Dahlman tackles the age-old question of articulating a vision as a school leader. When asked why the school had chewed through 5 leaders in 7 years, Dahlman argues that the previous leaders didn’t articulate a vision. Yet she revealed that her job wasn’t to articulate a vision on Day One but to listen and lead the charge toward developing a common vision. Many principals are challenged to produce a vision on Day One and are criticized for not articulating a clear vision from the beginning. Dahlman is freeing principals from that obligation as long as they’re willing to begin the process of articulating a vision for learning for the school.
How? She started by meeting with every staff member one-on-one when she began the job. That way, the staff can participate in the formulation of a common vision. So the leaders aren’t really proclaiming a pre-formed agenda but a collaboratively formed agenda created with the staff.
Then she emphasized the need for strategic thinking. “How do things fit together?” she asked. Dahlman points out that most school leaders are not comfortable with this part of their job. School leaders are trained to be instructional leaders or supervisors (e.g cafeteria duty) and are more comfortable doing those more traditional tasks. Strategic thinking is hard and umcomfortable but necessary to move a school forward.
I expected that Helen and I would spend the interview talking about the growth of Risen Christ School. Instead we talked about leadership, vision, and accessibility. Give it a listen!
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