Getting Smart – On School Leadership: Mindsets for Visionary Leaders

We recently interviewed Michael Soguero, Director of Professional Development at Eagle Rock Professional Development Center. Michael Soguero has been the director of professional development at Eagle Rock since the summer of 2006, working with schools and organizations around the country to increase high school engagement. Michael is the former principal of Bronx Guild High School in New York.

Eagle Rock – a non-profit initiative of the American Honda Motor Company – is both a school for high school age students and a professional development center for educators. The Eagle Rock Professional Development Center (ERPDC) works with school leaders from around the country who wish to study how to re-engage, retain and graduate students that engage in Deeper Learning experiences.

Michael works in developing leaders within competency-based school models, facilitates professional development to deepen learning, and develops processes to assist leaders in improving their practice. Michael sat down to talk with us about Deeper Learning and visionary school leadership.

Bonnie Lathram (BL): What sorts of mindsets do you seek to cultivate in your work with school leaders? How do you accomplish this?

Michael Soguero (MS): I think the number one mindset I engage with is that leaders have to look at whether or not they are willing to have ownership of the vision of their schools vs. seeing themselves as being compliant. It’s not an either/or. As a leader, you should stand for what you believe in and figure out how to address the external work as you go as opposed to looking at the external demands and fitting into that first. The permissions seeking mindset is detrimental. Instead, leaders can take a real leadership stance and buffer staff from the external demands.

If someone is on the fence, another mindset to address is how to think flexibly about how to address the external demands. If a leader is struggling with external demands, there are things we can do to help them message and reframe what they are doing but still stay true to their vision.

[At ERPDC], we use the text by Michael Fullan called The Moral Imperative of School Leadership. The book has a section on the barriers to change. The question is, how many of the barriers are self-imposed? Then, we can begin to surface assets at the school and focus on building on those.

BL: What specific competencies are essential for leadership to thrive in innovative schools?

MS: Have a strong vision and articulate that in a clear, compelling way to staff. The leader should have the skills and competencies to buffer the staff from external distractions and be willing to take heat with district/staff demands. You should not use the state/district as an excuse for something that your staff should do. It’s important to find the sweet spot between having a framework and making sure there are some points of consensus. Also, so many school leaders are looking for coaching around productivity and prioritizing. This is also something that is really helpful for leaders to have.

BL: What policies recommendations might support next gen principal/superintendent training?

MS: I think a real investment in professional development is key. My whole life’s work is professional development- renewal and continuous improvement, to be the best in front of the students is critical. I would be for any policy shift that supported professional development.

To learn more about Deeper Learning, please see Deeper Learning for Every Student Every Day and Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning. As a follow-up to these recent papers, we are kicking off a new project on Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning. We’d love to hear from you. What traits do you think are essential for leaders in Deeper Learning settings to have? Do traditional principal preparation programs cultivate them? Let us know by commenting below.

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