The 10 Skills You Need to Be a School Leader Here’s what you didn’t learn in graduate school that could make you the best school-based SLP around. School Matters
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School Matters  |   May 01, 2014
The 10 Skills You Need to Be a School Leader
Author Notes
  • Wayne Secord, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a senior research scientist at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Michael Towey, Robert Fox and Elisabeth Wiig, and undergraduate research assistant Corrine M. Galvan also contributed to this article.secord2@osu.edu
    Wayne Secord, PhD, CCC-SLP, is a senior research scientist at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Michael Towey, Robert Fox and Elisabeth Wiig, and undergraduate research assistant Corrine M. Galvan also contributed to this article.secord2@osu.edu×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / School Matters
School Matters   |   May 01, 2014
The 10 Skills You Need to Be a School Leader
The ASHA Leader, May 2014, Vol. 19, 28-29. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.19052014.28
The ASHA Leader, May 2014, Vol. 19, 28-29. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.19052014.28
It’s May and newly minted speech-language pathologists are pouring out of universities and into public school systems. Although all are undoubtedly well-educated and equipped to hit the ground running, becoming the best school-based SLP isn’t always about skills, expertise or energy.
Rising to the top of your field also includes some intangibles, such as outlook, approach and tenacity—qualities that aren’t usually specifically taught in graduate school.
What do school clinicians do that works so well and makes them into clinical leaders?
School-based SLPs are uniquely qualified to become clinical leaders given their strong backgrounds in communication, language and literacy; their extensive training in clinical assessment; individualized instruction (intervention); and their willingness to work with other professionals.
Although approximately 80 percent of ASHA members are clinical service providers, we know very little about what constitutes excellent clinical leadership in our field. Leadership is not something that our universities “train into” our students. There are no “clinical hours” for leadership, and no ASHA leadership standards to meet in clinical training. So what techniques help school clinicians succeed?
To set the context more appropriately, in 2011 through 2012, a group of us (Michael Towey, Robert Fox and Elisabeth Wiig) asked every state speech-language-hearing association in the United States to give us the names of the two most outstanding clinical and school-based SLPs in their state.
In early 2012, we asked these 180 speech-language pathology leaders nationwide (90 clinically based and 90 school-based) to complete an extensive questionnaire covering attitudes, beliefs, ideas, strategies, preferences, practice activities and other factors related to their clinical leadership perspectives and approaches. A total of 51 clinical leaders and 62 school leaders responded with a set of common qualities across settings. Here are our top 10 results based on what the school-based professionals said:
#10 They remember their priorities. Children and students come first.
  • Context-based improvement, participation and progress mean everything.

  • They coach and empower their students to take control and improve.

#9 They are not afraid. They take risks.
  • They go the extra mile to challenge the system for their students.

  • They don’t take “no” for an answer.

  • They get around problems in creative ways.

#8 They try new and hard things, and engage in deep practice.
  • They’re always looking for new and creative ways to improve performance.

  • Deep practice builds expertise (skills are performed fluently, with ease and speed).

#7 They understand change, both systemic and human.
  • They are patient problem-solvers and carefully work within their systems.

  • They search for tipping points (small things that help people change).

#6 They are able to achieve situational mastery over their leadership context.
  • They display confident and ever-apparent control over their workplace.

  • They win others to their bedrock leadership ideas and beliefs.

#5 They focus on a few things at a time and try to do those things (extremely) well.
  • The “few things done well” concept applies across teachers, parents and students.

  • They put a system in place that works without them.

  • Their intervention-based system is delivered with and through others.

#4 They have an academic end-point for everything they do.
  • First and foremost, most intervention activities are curriculum-based

  • Everything is designed with improved classroom responding in mind.

#3 They have superb school-based crossover knowledge and skills.
  • They understand curriculum standards and how teachers implement them.

  • They understand how classrooms work, scripts, routines, events, etc.

  • They are especially savvy about special education laws and rules.

  • They are keenly sensitive to multicultural and multilingual variability.

#2 They insist on teamwork, consultation and collaboration.
  • It’s how they succeed at “doing a few things really well.”

  • It gives them the leverage they need to accomplish things they can’t do alone.

  • It ensures success across materials, settings and multiple participants.

#1 They listen—and they’re good at it.
  • Listening was clearly the number-one leadership practice by far.

  • Listening (perspective-taking) is their fuel for teamwork and collaboration.

  • Superb listening skills fuel clinical leadership in multiple ways.

There were many other characteristics, skills and strategies mentioned, but the ability to listen and focus on the most important needs was clearly the most important clinical leadership strategy. One respondent even said, “I use my listening skills as a weapon; it’s truly what makes me good.”
1 Comment
May 12, 2014
Michelle Smith
Fantastic!
Great article-- I will definitely use these "Top 10" skills when designing my instructional goals for the year. So much of being an effective SLP is how we work with colleagues and "stakeholders", not just our clients/students.
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May 2014
Volume 19, Issue 5