Leaders work smart by focusing on a few, high-impact activities

Dennis Sparks

There is no doubt that principals and teacher leaders work hard. They exert uncommon effort over untold hours.

As a result, they are often so exhausted and stressed that they are unable to do their most important work.

It’s easy for all of us to confuse activity with accomplishment. That’s another way of saying that we too often work hard but not smart.

The truth is we can do only a few things well. That means one of the most important tasks of school leaders is determining what activities have the greatest impact on student learning and investing more time in doing them. It also means doing less of those things that make little or no difference.

Here’s an example: New systems of teacher evaluation that are being ramped up in many states and school systems are taking a serious toll on principals’ time and energy.

Some principals have used the new teacher evaluation systems as an opportunity to spend more time engaged in high-impact activities–frequent, brief classroom visits and evidence-based conversations with teachers about teaching and learning. That’s working smart.

Other principals spend countless hours preparing evaluation reports for their supervisors with poetic precision, although the reports are likely to be seen by only a handful of people. That’s working hard.

While I know this is a simplification of a complex responsibility, I offer it to stimulate your thinking about which activities in your circle of influence make the biggest difference and which do not.

Question: Which activities within your circle of influence make the biggest difference in the quality of teaching, learning, and relationships?

1 Response to “Leaders work smart by focusing on a few, high-impact activities”

  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott January 29, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Stephen Covey puts the dilemma this way in one of his seven habits: Put first things first. Don’t let urgent matters clutter your day, diverting you from your principles and what is important.


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