The Nature of Leadership: Traits of Effective School Leaders

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The Nature of Leadership: Traits of Effective School Leaders

Mrs. Pauline Reid


As educators, we have read books and examined research findings on the traits of effective school leaders; however, an effective school leader understands the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is not a vegetable, but a fruit; and wisdom is knowing not to include it in a fruit salad. It is therefore this writer’s objective to proffer some very practical, practicable and current realities based largely on experiential qualifications. Invariably we take up the position of school leader and we possess the requisite knowledge; but wisdom is knowing to lead in your own setting, and to construct new knowledge from your experiences. So the persons who have a wealth of experience can help to steer other leaders away from likely professional pitfalls.

Adherence to the following essential guidelines will prove helpful as we position ourselves as outstanding school leaders:

  • Seek to be a member of professional organizations, at least one that fosters professional growth. School leaders must be au fait with current thoughts in education and be able to critique new trends so that the determination can be made as to the appropriateness of these trends for your particular setting.
  • A pertinent question emerges: What are you now reading?  What about books on leadership, professional ethics? It is beneficial if you sign up for monthly subscription for magazines, periodicals that will advance your professional growth. What of television programmes? Soap operas and reality shows have their entertainment value, but there must be high tolerance for documentaries. You have to develop a palate for international news and current affairs. You have to be equipped to participate in conversation on topical issues with informed young people with brilliant minds, who will not hesitate to engage you on debatable topics. You will also be mingling and interacting with the learned, the informed, the perceptive and the aware.
  • If persons are to embrace us as professionals, then image is important. We must dress the part and be dignified, respectful and exhibit the character and mannerisms worthy of the title we bear. Needless to say, our speech pattern must also indicate some level of sophistication.
  • Very early in our career, as soon as we assume office, we must have an exit strategy. The idea is really not for you to start attending retirement seminars. You just have to exercise fiscal prudence so that when it is all over there is not total dependence on pension and a ‘lump sum’. Times have changed and will continue to change. So do not just talk to an insurance agent or a credit union officer; get a wealth advisor who will guide you into investment opportunities so that no pension reform or restructuring can compromise your standard of living in your winter years.

Added to these fundamental pointers, I now seek to also empower you to be engaged in life-altering activities by:

  • Removing all barriers and impediments to learning and to compensate for most of the harshness which exists outside the walls of the school.
  • Implementing programmes that ensure school cohesion and being the adhesive that enables all arms of the school to function as a fluid entity.
  • Being compliant with the standards established by the regulators.
  • Establishing a rigid system of accountability and transparency.
  • Failing to be motivated by remuneration and public recognition, but by simply seeking to serve humanity.
  • Operating under the principle that a school is nothing without its students and how you interact with the students says a lot about your leadership brand. Respect is not won by being ever present to reprimand, while often absent to reward. 


Above all, an effective school leader must focus on school ethos. The first question that we are compelled to ask is: What exactly is school ethos? School ethos refers to the character, the distinguishing features and dominant values of a school. Simply expressed, school ethos is really all the features of the school that give the school its special and unique character or culture; that for which the school becomes popularly known.


The ethos of a school can be detected from a combination of factors:

  • The physical facilities and the level of maintenance; How welcoming is the setting?
  • The provisions that are made to create a friendly and comfortable human landscape.
  • Effective interaction among stakeholders - What is the human, yet professional climate like?
  • The strategies that are employed to ensure that students excel.

As we pause to examine the matter of school ethos we must determine the leader’s course of action in creating a school with a great ethos:

  • The school leader should ensure that there are the requisite physical resources to provide outstanding education. Given the existing circumstances in many schools, resources are inadequate and unsophisticated, but school leaders must have the resolve to maximise the use of what is available and focus on what will facilitate effective teaching and learning. It is certainly not about fad but about what is essential for improved student learning and enhancing their overall wellness.
  • There must be the commitment to give students the education they desire. We must not be fixated on traditional professions and measure success based on these values. The curriculum must be relevant and flexible to accommodate students with modern and current interests and emerging national and international trends.
  • It is crucial for leaders to exhibit a clear understanding of the developmental complexities of our students, acknowledging that schools are for kids and they must be treated as the most important constituents. We cannot become paranoid, magnifying every childish mischief into a major catastrophe by labelling every disciplinary breach as a social problem; and the students are made to embrace the designation of being ‘at risk’.
  • We must recognize that students, like adults, are not finished products, finished products have an expiry date. Therefore they are a work in progress and our task is to help them to be better today than they were yesterday.
  • We must seek to create a setting that is physically and psychologically safe for staff and students. Some leaders complain at every forum that there is an urgent need for fencing and surveillance camera on every campus. Admittedly, this is important because we all fear physical hurt, but psychological safety is crucial and if this is absent there can be destructive consequences. Psychological safety is simply having a sense of belonging, feeling special; accepting that someone cares. Children have the need to feel wanted and loved and so the school environment must not be intimidating, but must be characterised by personalized relationships, caring setting; with students having the opportunities to be heard and the freedom to respectfully express their views.
  • To have an excellent school, we must have all stakeholders working together and so the school leader has to cater to the needs of everyone. Ironically, in looking at twenty first century leadership I end by alluding to  eighteenth  century  Nursery Rhyme:


Humpty Dumpty sat upon a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again


Principals, Education Officers, Board members, staff, parents, and students must all be guided into acknowledging interdependence. School leaders must be willing to collaborate with others and be aware of their professional deficiencies and seek assistance. They must regard themselves as not being in different armies, but rather as leading different platoons in the same army, fighting to ensure the well-being of the nation’s children. School leaders must not sit arrogantly on a wall, untouched by the challenges confronting staff and students. Neither should they be so obsessed with power and authority that there is reluctance to acknowledge and foster the development, growth and advancement of others. We must not become besotted with degrees, titles and positions because when schools become top-performing, it is a clear reflection of its leadership which can only be fuelled by committed, competent and caring staff; supportive parents, a shared vision by all stakeholders. When the school leader fails or falls, it cripples everyone.


I therefore implore us all to heed the advice given by Robin Shammer, “Work hard in silence and let success do the talking”.



Profile of Writer

Mrs. Pauleen Reid is a devoted educator who received initial certification at Shortwood Teachers’  College.  She then advanced to the University of the West Indies where she earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English. She later enrolled at the Central Connecticut State University from which she graduated with a Master of Science in Educational Leadership.

Mrs. Reid’s call to servanthood/stewardship is not confined to education as she serves in many other capacities. She embraces the belief that serving humanity should not be an occasional occurrence, but a way of life, and so she has created the legacy of being sole sponsor and organizer of an annual Christmas Treat in Brandon Hill, Clarendon, her community of origin. She is a member of the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning in Trelawny, Special projects Chair for Jamaica Cultural Development Commission and she has also served as Public Relations Officer for the Women’s Centre. Her investment in Christian service is also highlighted by the fact that she is a Deacon at Burchell Baptist Church, a Lay Preacher and the Chairman for Church Mission.

Mrs. Reid’s achievements have captured national attention, as she was the recipient of The Gleaner’s Woman of the Year Award in 2000 and Lasco Principal of the Year for 2010-2011. She is also A Past President of The Association of Principals and Vice –Principals and currently chairs the Professional Development Committee. Mrs. Reid is currently the Principal of Holland High School in Trelawny. She serves as  a member of The Advisory Board of The National College for Educational Leadership and a member of its International Relations and Marketing Committee, and Lead Administrator for The Executive Principals’ League.

She is married to Norman Reid and is the mother of two children; Ryan and Rochelle. 

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