Looking at Leadership

Two of my colleagues, Jim and Lorene Malanowski , flagged me to check out the announcement that Mark Wilson, the principal of Morgan County High School, had been chosen as the 2009 High School Principal of the year. Jim is a teacher at the high school and the Malanowski’s daughter, Emily, is a student there.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals reported that Wilson wants all students to be treated as exceptions, because as he sees it, each student brings a unique set of strengths and needs.

Listening to an interview with Wilson on the NASSP site, I heard him describe several programs in place that are all driven by his beliefs and vision. He stresses the need to examine why you want to change, before considering how to change. (Take the time to listen to the interview.)

Elements of Morgan High School’s approach include:
-A hybrid schedule making time for “what they decide is important”
-An advisory program
-A continual grading approach
-Teacher collaboration…created by students arriving at school at 9 am one day a week while teachers report at 7:30 am and have 90 minutes for collaborative planning.

Education Week (Sept 10,2008) reported a few of the school’s results:

* Graduation rate has risen from 71 to 82 percent.
* AP or IB course takers from 30 to 389
* Dramatic reduction in the achievement gap between black and white students
* 77% of seniors going to two or four year colleges

Mr. Wilson said his intent was to create more opportunity and higher expectations for students, and more collaboration among teachers. To do that, he looked to elementary and middle schools.

“A lot of what we need to do well, they’ve been doing for a long time,” he said. “Particularly working together toward a common goal, as elementary teachers do, and interdisciplinary work, as middle school teachers do. If we can do those things and have the heart of a kindergarten teacher, combined with the rigor of a high school curriculum, we’ve got something pretty special.”

Jim Malanowski teaches at Morgan County High School and had this to say about working with Mark Wilson:
“I came to Morgan County High School to do Mark Wilson ‘a favor’ after he had a teacher resign the day before school started. I literally took the job at 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and was sitting in a faculty meeting at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. That was four years ago. I have stayed here because I’ve never worked in an environment quite like this. Everyday, I get to work with ‘DWITs’ who are willing to ‘Do What It Takes’ to get the job done. That feeling is what keeps all of us here, I guess. Mark has done an exceptional job of selecting faculty based on their willingness to contribute and then supports them unconditionally as they do what they were hired to do.

In addition, he is the epitome of flexibility. He thinks in terms of ‘cans’ rather than ‘can’ts’ and options rather than barriers, then sets about finding ways to make things happen. In addition, he is a dream maker. It doesn’t matter how small or large your dream, he has an unbelievable knack for helping you reach it. Last year, a week after I assumed the role of AP Coordinator, he asked me to meet with some parents of a student who had been home schooled until his freshman year. As I talked with them, I shared the ‘normal’ options for freshmen at MCHS. As the conversation developed I realized the parents wanted much more for their child. I brought Dr. Wilson into the conversation and in minutes, instead of taking our typical foreign language options of Spanish or French, the boy was signed up for Chinese and the parents were paying to bring a tutor to the school twice a week. This year, the same student is leaving school early once a week to take Farsi at the University of Georgia. Mark is extremely interested in extending our students as far as they can reach. He has opened up AP courses to anyone who is willing to take the challenge, and as a result our AP courses offerings have gone from four courses two years ago to 14 this year.

Finally, he’s relentless in doing the work at hand. In my mind, that’s why I got an email from him last night time stamped at 1:23 a.m. then later received one from a teacher sent at 2:34 a.m. His attitude, his commitment, and his work ethic are an example that can’t be ignored. It’s contagious.

I’m in my 38th year of education. If we can talk Mark into staying, I think I’ll do it for another 38.”

The Harvard Business Review (Sept 2008) features an article by Daniel Coleman and Richard Boyatzis titled “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership” where they identify the importance of social Intelligence for effective leadership. [You’ll find an interview with Coleman and elements of social intelligence.]
As I read about Mark Wilson and Morgan County High School, the phrase that I often use when speaking about leadership seemed to shine through, “model the model”. If relationships between teachers and students are critical to learning, then relationships should be modeled between administrators and teachers. If we have high expectations for students, we need to have them for teachers and principals too. Notice that along with high expectations at Morgan County High School comes extra support for students.
The Harvard article identifies new brain evidence “that the brain is peppered with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another one does. When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.”
Consider what you are modeling today.
Here is what Lorene Malanowski had to say about Principal Wilson from a parent’s perspective:
“Mark Wilson, known affectionately as ‘Doc’, is so energetic, positive and determined to help all of his students reach their potential. To do that for my daughter, Emily, he found out this past summer that she was interested in going into broadcast journalism. This year, on Monday morning during the school wide announcements, she has her own segment, called ‘Mondays with Mal’ where she directs, produces, and edits a feature of her choosing. She has interviewed other students in the school about their summer adventures or about their hobbies outside of school. She is getting great experience doing this and I am so thankful to Doc for providing it to her. He is very involved with the students – he is usually in the school play and I know as a principal he has no extra time to do that. Last year, several students decided they wanted to put on a concert that showcased the different talents in the school…faculty AND students…with the proceeds going to a local charity. Doc was thrilled and allowed the students to go for it. It was a GIANT success. Doc is approachable by both students and parents and works from the viewpoint that we’re all on the same team. I am so delighted to have him as our principal.”

Sounds like social intelligence to me.

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