by Clint Holden, M.A.
A school leader today is supposed to act as an entrepreneur and a person of vision, able to inspire, empower, and motivate his staff under the auspices of a shared mission statement that fosters common goals for the entire community (Engels, Hotton, Devos, Bouckenooghe, & Aelterman, 2008).
Heads of school (HOS) are the linchpin to the effectiveness of overall operations and the steward and guide of vision accomplishment. Those in the role of HOS are often expected to accomplish far more than is realistic and to accurately assess situations correctly, dealing with many daunting challenges in a prompt and concise manner. Heads of school are often seen as the one person who should keep all things running smoothly, no matter how unrealistic that may be.
Focusing on the HOS leadership ability remains the most critical concern for both HOS and board. The HOS must be adept at the traditional leadership duties of articulating the school’s mission and acting as the “living logo or personification” of the school. The HOS must be seen by the board as their most important employee to the school and one to whom they must pledge to protect and nurture.
Given this focus, the school board must implement best practice evaluation of the HOS. Based on our survey analysis of leadership situations worldwide, schools that are proactive rather than reactive in their evaluation of the HOS will be more satisfied with the process and enjoy a much more strategic and long-term harmonious relationship. To this end…
Effective evaluation must be formal. An annual written evaluation should be conducted, based on job description, agreed upon goals aligned with the organization's strategic plan, and other criteria specified in the HOS contract. 360 surveys that include student, staff, and parent feedback can be helpful, but can also be very damaging if not conducted professionally and according to best practices.
Effective evaluation must be informal. The HOS and board chair should be in regular discussion about areas in which the HOS needs to improve. Bottom line... when the annual formal evaluation rolls around there should be no surprises to the HOS. Yet, our experience has found a disturbing pattern in schools. Because of lack of honesty and informal discussion, Heads of school were often surprised by a negative formal evaluation or witch hunt leading to sudden and untimely departure.
Effective evaluation must be summative. Of course, evaluation is used to determine pay raises and ultimately whether or not the HOS is retained in his position for another year. When I read about surveys of parent, teacher and student opinions regarding HOS performance I wonder what role, if any, these opinions should play in the evaluation of the HOS. Popular opinion often has little to do with how well the HOS is doing his job. Heads of school make tough choices on a regular basis that some teachers, parents and students don't like. If the HOS evaluation is based on a few loud voices rather than on the truth and more objective criteria, trouble for the HOS is typically the result.
Effective evaluation must be formative. The best use of evaluation is to help the HOS improve in areas of weakness. Many boards are tempted to think that the best solution to school problems is to replace the HOS with a better one. The problem is that everyone has areas of strength and weakness. Usually the best course of action is to support the existing HOS by providing further training, mentoring, opportunities for success and growth.
According to a 2020 study conducted by The Association of Christian Schools International, nearly half of all heads of school (46%) have served at their current schools just five years or less, and the statistic for the preceding heads of school was similar at 49%. The next largest category of heads are those who have served for 6-10 years at the school for both current and prior heads of school at 22%.
Effective and properly conducted HOS evaluations will help increase the average tenure of the HOS creating more opportunity for mission and vision success. School boards that choose to evaluate their HOS in the above prescribed manner will find an overall increased perception of school stability, vision, and improvement.
Perception is reality.
Authored by Clint Holden
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