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What are leadership proxies and why are they killing us?

A proxy is one thing that stands for another. A best friend can be the proxy for a groom that is in the military in another country. Most proxies are pale comparisons for the real thing. I think we have established a number of leadership proxies that are collectively harming schools and school leaders.

Efficient, orderly meetings=good meetings: Meetings in schools are haphazard. Rarely can an entire staff come together and complete meaningful business in the time provided. The proxy here is that if a principal can ruthlessly follow the meeting agenda and get through the items, the meeting was worthwhile. The meeting was worthwhile even if the items contained on the agenda were barely worth talking about in the first place. Consider the alternative. Staffs could undertake meaningful, complex, and important issues and not make a dent in resolving them. I think that those were some of the best meetings I have ever attended. Conversations always lasted well beyond the meeting. In some cases, we discussed the issue for weeks in the library, the teacher's lounge, and through e-mail.

Examining achievement data=solid instructional decisions: Data can be tricky. Making decisions based upon "the numbers" has become all the rage. Decisions linked to available achievement data are widely considered to be better than decisions made by other means. The proxy here is that the examination of data usually does not go far enough. On the basis of a single metric, we (usually some sort of standardized achievement test) assign students to intervention, or determine that the student has mastered the standard sufficiently. While I'm very much in favor of using data to make decisions, I think we have totally missed the boat on what qualifies as potent data. For example, based upon the available data, we will assign students to intervention. What data was used to craft the intervention program? Does the intervention work? What is percentage of students receiving this intervention that make progress on the test? If we are going to use, data, lets be thoughtful about it.

While these represent only two of the many leadership proxies that exist in our schools, they serve as examples of ways that we collectively conspire to define success through labeling effective practice, without regard to the products of those practices.

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