Leadership Presence

Mary Fulp McMahon, ACSA & AASP President

Everyday intentional actions make a big difference when it comes to transforming our schools.

Are you ready? To accept the challenge? To face the truth?

I ask these questions to get to the heart of who you are as a leader. I have found that transformative leaders take consistent, intentional action, every single day. They show up. They focus. They are present. Regardless of the resources, they focus on what they can do and spend their energy doing it. They find solutions and they act.

Simple solutions can often bring the most transformative results. I have been working to transform our school culture for several years now, but have made the biggest strides in the past two years.

Through the results of our School Climate and Connectedness Survey, we became aware that our peer climate needed improvement. I had to own the story our students were telling us, accept the things they were saying as our truth, and have the courage to do something about it. According to the survey,

14% of students do not feel that students at our school help each other if they are not friends.

18% of students do not feel that other students treat them with respect.

21% of students do not feel that when students see another student being picked on they try to stop it.

26% of students feel that students at our school are often teased or picked on.

I had to listen to and reflect on these truths that our students were sharing and then get to work on solutions. These survey results were on me. I am the leader and I am the one who needed to own this in order to take action to lead us through it.

I got to work and, with the involvement of our entire school community, created a plan. I enlisted the support and action of all concerned parties, especially our students—our No. 1 Stakeholders. To be transformed, our school culture needed to be broken down and rebuilt, one action to the next. Our plan needed to be simple, focused, and clear.

On Day One, I went over my leadership top ten core values. I shared my commitment statement and asked all staff members to write their own. When students arrived, we had every student write a commitment statement, listing what actions each would be willing to take to make ours the most kind and respectful school possible. We then instituted a routine where we start each school day by reading two student commitment statements as part of our morning announcements. We created a “Be Strong, Be the Change” award that aligns with our efforts and celebrates those who are taking consistent action to create meaningful change in our school.

As school principal, I share a morning message that reinforces, from the top, our commitment to kindness and respect and reiterates our agreement to take positive action to make good things happen for others. I ask students to share ideas via a “voice bucket” to make our school a better place for everyone. I take action, I lead, I empower, and I inspire change.

I am present and engaged. I am passionate and I am positive.

I share a simple, yet powerful, message with my school community each morning. I then align all my actions to this message—a message that comes from my heart: Be Positive. Be You. Be the Change.

I was recently honored to serve on the Department of Education’s Challenge Committee to Promote Safety and Well-Being. One of five committees established by the Department as part of its effort to transform Alaska’s schools, we were tasked with defining goals and rationales for improving conditions for students. I am most passionate about transforming student safety and well-being, and it was immediately evident that all appointed committe members shared a similar passion for this cause. This is truly life-changing work that lies at the heart of everything we do in our schools.

Every day matters. There is so much for us to do each day that it may be hard at times to remain positive. The leaders who are truly transformative are those who maintain a positive and uplifting mindset, act with intention, and lead by example.

What we do makes a difference. Leadership presence matters.