TLP: Monica Greeley, Academia Cotopaxi, Ecuador
Recently a colleague of mine was talking about the increasing practice of appointing school heads almost two years ahead of their start date. For instance, amongst the people I’ve interviewed, both Tim Carr and Mark Ulfers received their appointments well over a year before they officially began working at their schools. This practice has led to the rise of interim heads, which helps keep the school running and provides some leadership during the gap. If you ask me it sounds like a pretty good gig. You get to travel and live in a new location and work with a new group of people. If you do a great job you might get asked to go somewhere else for another year, and if you’re horrible, you’ll just build the anticipation for the new head to start. Where can I sign up? Well unfortunately for most of us, you have to be amongst the highest respected professionals in the field of international education.
Monica Greeley, who has helped lead schools in Kenya, Indonesia and Burma as well as heading Cairo American College in Egypt, most recently helped bridge the gap between heads at Jakarta International School. If that’s the CV needed to get a one-year appointment, I am far from qualified. During our discussion she spoke of the balancing act an interim head must overcome between moving the school forward, while also helping to bring healing to the community in different areas if needed. She explained that much of this work is rooted in ”identifying common values” that you can use to renew a shared culture and soften areas of toxicity.
(If not specifically quoted, Ms. Greeley’s responses to these questions have been paraphrased)
When and why did you decide to step into leadership?
“This is, I think, one of the interesting parts about my story…what happened was I thought I was going to be a teacher forever, because I love teaching. What happened was when I was in Kenya the head of school…identified me as a leader for a number of reasons…he decided to create a new position for me and I said no.” I felt unqualified and my children were young, so I really wasn’t interested. In fact for months I kept offering suggestions of other candidates…”and then finally he came to me and said, ‘either you take the position, or I won’t create the position,’ which on one level is very gratifying and validating, but on the other was very terrifying.”
“Once that happened [and I got my feet wet, I really enjoyed] being able to not only implement a vision, but [also the ability] to craft the vision [with others] became the reason I wanted to remain in administration. With that said I believe that loving the classroom…should be on the list of criteria for good administrators.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay in the classroom as an administrator, but think one of our primary roles as administrators is to be an instructional leader. Even if we’re not teaching a class we’re often teaching our faculty, so we can model effective practices through this relationship too. Really no matter what role one takes in a school we must always remain teachers in some capacity.
All of your positions have been in the developing world, was this on purpose?
“Yes.” My husband was a part of USAID and our orientation has always been towards the developing world. “It might not be wholly accurate, but I think there is a little bit of a sense that you’re making a bigger contribution [in those parts of the world]. That may or may not be the case…[but] our comfort level is definitely in the developing world.”
You’ve been in positions of leadership at schools around the globe, with very different cultures at each school, what’s one of your first priorities when starting?
When I first started at Cairo American College, I instituted a fairly comprehensive entry plan by inviting all the various stakeholders to come in and meet with me, as well as complete a survey to see what their major concerns were. “What I do as a rule…is to talk about the school culture, [with the staff and admin team] and work to identify any areas of toxicity that need attention. I also believe…that there are common values…even amongst vastly different cultures [that can help bind a school together]. The key as a school leader is to identify the values that you want to represent your school, and then define them.”
What specific skills do you bring when you step into a role?
As I mentioned earlier it’s important to me to look for areas that need attention or represent some kind of toxicity…I believe part of my role [when entering a school is] to “help healing to take place…[however,] I want to be really cautious and not pretend that I alone [bring healing]…[but] a new person provides an opportunity for change.”
“[Also] you have to be a good listener and you have to be really patient.” Honestly, sometimes you think the issues are pretty minor or even insignificant and people need to just get over it. On the other hand, when you start to hear the same thing over and over, no matter how insignificant, it’s an indication that there is something more serious going on that needs attention.
“I can relate fairly well to people who may not be my best friends, and have [differing opinions].”
“I’m also very direct. I’m warm and fuzzy, and a hugger…[but can also be very direct] at helping define boundaries.” What I mean by that is as an administrator “we all want to promote shared decision making and collaboration,” but once we’ve identified a solution we need to be ready to get everybody to move forward.
What’s your greatest priority when choosing teachers and administrators?
“I look for love of the job…any teacher that works with me… will tell you how [tired] they are of hearing me say ‘come to work with a spring in your step.’ But I really believe that we are in a service profession, we’re serving students, so we have to love what we’re doing, because that contributes to their love of learning.”
“Team work is hugely important…[having] evidence of being able to work as a team [is vital], and then…accept responsibility for team decisions is something else that I feel is very important’… I think we talk a lot about collaboration and shared decision-making; but we don’t talk enough about shared ownership, accountability, and implementation.
“The ability to work together and ensure decisions are made and implemented responsibly and enthusiastically.”`
Can you offer me any advice?
“Pay attention to what you have learned from any mentors”
“Continue to be a good listener
“Focus on student learning.”
“Make missions and strategic plans…alive, viable and dynamic.”
Use accreditation to your school’s benefit.