Yesterday, I spend over an hour talking to a school leader who was sick and tired of her school management's attitude. About two months back, I had a very similar conversation with another school leader. Both of them, although at different phases of their career, wanted to switch to a better school.
Have you or any of the school leaders you know faced a similar situation? There are many school leaders who feel suffocated in their current job for multiple reasons. They are confident of their abilities and want to contribute in a positive manner to develop an excellent school. They seek a better work environment and culture, a culture of respect, a culture of growth mindset, a culture of supporting innovation, and a culture of recognition. Sadly, schools with such a culture and environment are few. So what should be the strategy for a school leader to grow her career?
I have a very pragmatic approach to life that is influenced by two contrasting cultures. For seven years, I worked in a completely academic atmosphere at a US university. I spent the rest of my career in the corporate sector in India during which, as an entrepreneur, I consulted with both small and large organizations in the education domain. I consider myself very fortunate in life because of two reasons. First, I have always done what I enjoyed. If I did not enjoy it, I did not pursue it at all. Second, I have always taken up consulting assignments on my terms. And, I have been fairly successful. More importantly, I have managed to stay happy and peaceful with all my professional endeavors.
Coming from this rare mindset, let me share some advice for all school principals who wish to concentrate on growing their careers and possibly working for a better school.
Find the Time to Invest in Your Growth
School leaders are over-occupied with managing schools.
Both the school principals mentioned above are continuing to expend every drop of their sweat and blood on the school they want to leave as soon as possible. People with a pragmatic approach would find this a bit absurd.
Work, like any other relationship, is a two-way contract between the employer and the employee. If school management does not take care of the personal and professional needs of a principal, why should the principal be expected to devote her 100% towards the school's growth?
Principals work round-the-clock. Some people may classify this as "dedication". But, if you are looking for career growth, this may prove to be "suicidal". In fact, experts in human resource development claim that people who take their work home are not "hard-working" but rather "inefficient". No matter how you look at it, you must realize that if you keep devoting every minute you have to the school you want to leave, you will not have time to focus on finding the school you want to join.
To achieve your aspirations you need to plan a strategy, implement it, and continuously evaluate its progress. This can not happen without investing time. If you have no time dedicated to your own personal growth, you will most likely stay where you are. In fact, over a period of time, you may even decline from your current position.
So, my first advice, without which the rest of the article would be meaningless is to find adequate time to invest in your career growth.
Build Your Professional Network
People, organisations, and businesses grow on the strength of their networks.
The power of a good professional network has been largely ignored by professional school leaders in India. However, like other professions, school leaders who want to boost their careers can benefit a lot from the right network. Much before a school leader's position is advertised, recruiters scout for good and able candidates within their network. A candidate recommended by someone they trust has a big advantage over candidates who respond to the advertisements.
A professional network can also help you to stay updated on the latest developments and trends in school education. And, you can always approach members of the network to seek advice on the school that you may be planning to join.
Networking is a time-consuming task. But, the good thing is that you do not have to devote your prime work hours. You can spend evenings, weekends, and holidays to unwind and interact with network members.
Both face-to-face and digital mediums should be used to develop professional networks as each of them have their own advantages. Face-to-face networking opportunities such as conferences, workshops, seminars, and events may offer higher affinity levels with members. However, digital mediums such as LinkedIn, WhatsApp, or Telegram groups are inexpensive and provide a much larger reach.
There is no benefit of being a silent, passive member of a professional network. You have to ensure that people notice you and are aware of your professional achievements.
To grow your career and take full advantage of your professional network it is important to maintain high levels of visibility. People should see your name and photograph as frequently as possible. They must read or listen to your thoughts as often as possible. High visibility ensures a strong recall when people find an opportunity that fits your profile.
There are many ways to create and sustain visibility. In face-to-face interactions, such as workshops, seminars, conferences, or events, you must make effort to participate as actively as possible. Try to get some time on the stage. If that does not work, make sure you ask questions or share feedback as a member of the audience. In digital mediums, make sure your profile details are accurate. Use the latest photograph, spell your name right, update the status, and share your professional achievements (on LinkedIn). Another great way to boost visibility is two write articles for blogs and magazines. You can also use these published articles on social media as well as professional networks. To contribute to ICSL blogs, write to email@example.com. You can also get your article published in ICSL magazines: The Progressive Teacher and The Progressive School.
The drive to excellence takes you to the top, and allows you to stay there.
Top schools in India are looking for dynamic school leaders who can continue to grow their schools. Such schools seek school leaders who have an attitude to seek excellence in whatever they do. Your attitude plays a huge role in securing a position with these schools.
To make "excellence" part of your work culture and attitude, school leaders will need to:
Master every aspect of the seven school leadership domains
Have a high professional and personal aspiration
Exhibit strong problem-solving skills
Show extra-ordinary people skills
Become life-long learners
The National Education Policy will increase the demand for school leaders of high-caliber who can deliver results. But, the onus to "be found" rests completely on it. Do not neglect your career. If you want to explore the ocean, don't limit yourself to a lake.
About the Author
Dr. Atul Nischal is the Founder of the International Council for School Leadership (ICSL) and serves as the Program Director of ReSET, the 3-week online certificate program for educators.
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