I was lucky that as a young administrator in the Boston Public Schools, I was mentored by Dr. Robert Peterkin. Bob was a former Superintendent in Cambridge, Milwaukee, and the former Director of the Urban Superintendent Program at Harvard University. Bob explained that the best practices and actions would not always prevail in solving problems and achieving goals. He told me that he would help me understand that I was missing one skill that would prevent me from achieving my goals. Bob explained that this particular skill was not part of any university curriculum, but it was essential that every school leader develop it to be successful. The training Bob bestowed on me has helped me many times throughout my career. And it’s a training that I continue to extend to principals and central office staff in our coaching engagements.

What’s in a name?
The concept of “politics” has numerous definitions: the theory and practice of influencing others; the art of compromise; and the ability to “get something done” to name only a few. I continually meet educational leaders who are frustrated and sometimes demoralized by what they see as politics operating outside and within their system – in the community, the teachers’ lounge, the board room – spawning actions that they see as running counter to what is best for students. Learning how to look through a political lens, however, can help educational leaders to anticipate and manage local politics. It can empower school leaders to build alliances and garner support for high impact strategies that do improve the likelihood of school success. The knowledge and skills necessary to work effectively in a political setting are paramount to being successful in education today. So, how do you become “political”?

Looking through a political lens
My book, Leadership and Teams, The Missing Piece of the Educational Reform Puzzle, detailed seven competencies that highly effective school leaders tend to demonstrate. The seventh competency, “Building external networks/partnerships” speaks, in part, to creating political alliances. The following four points speak to this idea of networking and forming partnership, and will help integrate political thinking into your leadership work. These precepts are just the beginning and will help you weather the storms that could overwhelm you as your navigate the often treacherous waters of educational reform today.
1. As you confront a decision, list all the constituents / stakeholders that could impact or be impacted by your decision.
2. Identify what each group stands to gain or lose from your decision. If you are not sure, make some inquiries to find out how some of those stakeholders might feel.
3. Determine what your decision would be without regard to politics
4. Adjust your strategies to consider the politics without losing the results you wanted to achieve.

The reality is…
I included a section on politics in Leadership and Teams, and at least one reviewer saw my words as condoning politics and in its influence on education today. I was not condoning politics, especially the kind that results in stagnation, but the reality is that politics won’t go away and will continue to derail educational leaders who ignore its power and influence on results.