Part I of this two-part series discussed flexibility and communication. Part II explores two additional variables — relationships and wearing many hats — that are essential to virtual-school leadership.
Most people think that since we are a virtual school we must be a “technology” school. While it’s easy to understand the thinking, we believe we are a relationship-based school that leverages technology to build relationships. More to the point, we leverage connective technologies to build meaningful relationships with students, families and school officials.
As a virtual school leader, I have to leverage those technologies to build relationships with our faculty.
Trying to explain the relationship I have with the instructors I work with to brick-and-mortar school leaders is as difficult as trying to explain the relationship our instructors have with their students. Until one experiences it, one can’t describe it. I don’t know how well they manage their classroom or how reliable they are on lunch duty. I don’t know whether or not they send a lot of kids to the office or if they work well on a team of teachers. I have never seen a lesson plan, a seating chart, or a “sub plan.” I don’t know how they build their curriculum or what their tests look like. Frankly, I don’t need to.
What I need to know is that they work hard to build relationships with their students. They are empathic and sympathetic to their students’ situations and believe fervently that they are there to coach and guide their learning in their class. Every student has the right to every opportunity to learn regardless of learning styles, pace or prior school experiences. Every student has a personal story and that that story may have a profound effect on how they learn. They are experienced educators who are willing and able to differentiate at the individual student level, understanding that individual students need individual attention. They believe that they have never met a student that wanted to fail and that every student will meet lofty expectations when given the time and resources to do so.
As a result, I see my responsibility as empowering our instructors to differentiate instruction for every student at the molecular level of learning, a level that can only be reached through strong relationships. I have to help our instructors know how to personalize instruction at an incredibly intimate level. To do that, I need to build relationships with the faculty. I need to be the chief architect in building a culture of support and not a culture of gotcha. If they don’t know I am there to help them grow, then I am not doing my job.
Wear many hats
To define my role as simply “the HR guy” would be inaccurate. Sure, the majority of what I do is hire new employees, administer payroll and benefits and oversee the staff of our school, but I am still involved with curriculum and program changes, I provide input into the guidance plan, I help support new technologies through various professional development sessions and I employ the same customer service skills that we expect of all of our employees. Because our school is relatively new, and unlike local school districts, cannot generate revenue through local taxes, all of our leaders wear many hats. While we all have areas of focus, we are all involved in the programmatic decisions and support that allow our school to grow. Sure, I’m the “HR guy” but there are times I am the “PD guy,” the “training guy,” or the “operations guy.”
This makes being a virtual school leader such a rewarding position. Knowing that I can be involved in decision making that literally makes a difference in the lives of thousands of students statewide all the while building incredibly powerful relationships along the way, is nothing short of intoxicating. Being a part of the change and seeing the school culture in our state shift toward one of partnership between and among schools in an attempt to provide multiple pathways for students truly is a gift beyond that which I think I could have imagined before I got started.
Tony Baldasaro is the chief human resource officer of Virtual Learning Academy Charter School in New Hampshire. Having been a teacher, a building administrator, a district-level administrator and now a statewide charter-school administrator, Baldasaro has come to strongly believe that education needs to provide multiple pathways and opportunities for students, that there is no one path to learning. Hence, he spends much of his professional time advocating for use of multiple pathways for students. In addition to writing here, he blogs regularly at TonyBaldasaro.com.