Leading Like My Dad

It seems like yesterday that I began my career as an elementary school principal.  During these past few years, a number of items, strategies, and/or goals have changed during this short time.  One of the biggest changes that I have seen happen is the move from a “building manager” administrator to more of an “instructional manager” administrator.  Times of just making sure that your building is left standing at the end of the day is just not enough for principals.  Now do not get me wrong, it is important and vital that a principal makes sure that teachers have the proper student desks, doors are working, plumbing is flowing, the bell system is ringing, so on and so forth.  Yet, successful schools are more than likely to have a principal who plays not only the part of a building manager, but more importantly, the part an instructional manager.
Principals as instructional leaders?  This is nothing new or 21st century.  However, you are finding more and more principals taking on the role as an instructional leader.  We can all spend hours or days on what skills that an instructional leader must have:
Knowledge of educational standards
Vision of applying strategies for student success
Willingness to try out of the box methods for campus success
Involvement with students, parents, and community

The list could go on and on.   

I recall the first opportunity that I had to witness an instructional leader in action.  It was a person that was very close to me, my father.
Mike Ogg, my father, had been a junior high school science teacher, coach, an assistant principal for a junior high and high school, and a junior high and high school principal.  He even had the chance to dive into the role of a superintendent.  Outside of school, my father played a big role in the Texas National Guard, where he worked his way up to General.  A role that I feel also added to his success as an administrator.  Today, I still am taking the things that my father shared with me an applying  them to my current career.
He was one of the best building managers that I have ever seen.  He knew the ins and outs of each campus that he worked on.  Rarely, did his teachers have, need, or want for materials to support their students.  He made it a priority to make sure that their needs were taken care of.  This also carried on into the instructional realm for him.  He spent countless hours understanding the state standards, developing a vision and mission for his students, and leading each campus to academic success.
It wasn’t easy. I can recall my father coming home late in the evenings after an athletic event at a high school.  There were numerous times where he had to deal with angry parents, teachers, or students.  Yet, there were more joyous occasions than stressful ones.  Today, I still speak with a number of people who had my dad as a teacher or principal, both as a student and as a staff member.  They always recall to me how my father was such a leader for them.  How he as an instructional leader made a difference for not only them as an individual, but for the campus as well.
As I began my career, I recall having a number of discussions or war stories as my farther would call them (That was the National Guard coming out of him). A few things that I have taken to heart as I continue down the path of an instructional leader:
  • “Take care of your troops and your troops will take care of you.”
My father used this saying often in his career.  He got this from his duty in the National Guard and his time as a Corp Commander at Texas A&M University.  He would tell me that if I took care of my teachers and students they in turn would take care of me.  He stressed to me that I should do what I can to help them in order to reach the campus goal.
  • “Make every decision on what is best for the students.”
Countless times I recall asking my father what he thought of this decision or that decision.  He would always answer that if it was in the best interest of the students, then you cannot go wrong.
  • “Learn every chance you get.”
My father knew that in order to be a successful principal, you have to continue to learn.  Learn what new things were happening in education and be on top of a very changing career.  He also liked to learn things outside of educational business, such as historical leaders, the history of the United States and other countries and apply them to his vision for his campus.
  • “Get out of your office.”
It is important to know your students and staff as well as they know you.  He would tell me to run my campus by walking around and discussing topics with students and staff.  Often he told me, “Do not let them come to you, you go to them.”
  • “Know every name of your student.”
I remember one time that I took my dad on a tour of a campus that I was working on.  A young student came up and began talking to us.  Dad asked if I knew his name.  I told him that I didn’t . . . . .  and then I got a look from my father - - - and that moment  changed my perception from that time on.  The more you know your students the better you will be at helping them.
  • “Never forget what it is like to be a teacher.”
Dad spoke that you should always try to never forget what it was like to be in the classroom or as he put it, the “front line.”  He told me that your teachers are a vital part of your campus success.  They have a lot on their plate, not to mention things they have on their plate outside of school.  You cannot help them if you forget what it was like.

There are many more things that my father spoke to me about being an instructional leader.  I hope after this blog that I will be able to share more.  Dad has been gone for four years now.  Not a day goes by that I do not think of him and our war stories that we would share.  I dedicate this blog to his memory and the legacy that he left on this earth.

I hope you are smiling down at us dad.  Thanks for everything and showing me the first steps in not only being a building manger but more importantly, an instructional leader.


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