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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Knight Moves

Knight Moves

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

The Knight is my favorite chess piece. 

With elegance, power, and precision, it advances itself with a quick side step before moving forward and can also move to the side after furthering an advance. 

The Knight is clever.  Yet, it does not necessarily employ a bag of tricks, as it is authentic and simple in its moves, smartly selecting any of a number of paths of least resistance.

Knight Moves are critical in school leadership. 

When working to enact change that we know is best for children, we oftentimes encounter resistance, or someone’s differing agenda.  We’ll find this even more when the stakes are higher or when job security and compensation are tied to student learning and positive evaluation outcomes.

As a wise school leader at a Principals’ Association dinner mentioned last week, “The bullets are coming back at us, very fast.  We need to be ready for them.” 

Someone is always trying to capture “Our King,” it seems.  Yet, our win is a win for the children.  Let us keep that in mind, as we consider the value in moving as a Knight.

Knight Moves are not tricks. They do not demonstrate deception or sleight-of-hand, yet they are admittedly clever. Instead of using a heavily guarded “front doors” in addressing issues, Knight Moves use “side doors.”  Their chosen paths are smarter, not necessarily clandestine (but can be at times). They are shrewd.

When might we need them?  Certainly, when the going is a bit rough, such as when resistant subcultures in our schools have influence with our local school boards or when those above us are more good-ole’ boys than champions of children.  Situations that call for Knight Moves are typically political in nature.

Examples of Knight Moves would include:

Focusing on the needs of adults in school change initiatives, as one can do so and still be “student-centered.” An adult-first focus with principle-centered leadership brings about a positive effect on children.  It is a path that I have found works.  Why are we always told first to fasten an airliner’s oxygen mask to ourselves first, then to our children?  Why are couples encouraged to focus on their marriage as a way toward better relationships with their children? Because adults need to be healthy in order to help others dependent upon them. Oftentimes, leaders profess to their staffs, “It’s not about ‘the adults’ in schools.” I disagree. Many leaders with rightful, student-centered convictions move through the front door in championing quality education for children, when a Knight Move may work more effectively.

Advancing school improvement in a manner in which good ideas come from the faculty, rather than from leadership.  This brings about ownership and enhanced legitimacy. A leader’s patience in planting seeds and tending to them through germination is key.  Overwatering hurts, as does neglect. This takes a bit of time and positioning, as many Knight Moves do.

Taking responsibility for everything negative that happens in our buildings and giving away credit for everything that is positive. This is not feigned humility. It is a focused, attentiveness on the positive contributions of others, while demonstrating that we know where the buck stops. It is a Knight Move that necessitates we forego at times the need to take credit for the positive outgrowths of our leadership.

Knight moves in school leadership are smart.

With elegance, power, and precision, they advance what is good for children with a quick side step before moving forward. They also allow leaders to move gracefully to the side after furthering an advance. 

They get the job done.


Dr. Ryan Donlan encourages your thoughts on advancing positive change in schools and hopes that you will comment on this blog or write him at  Telephone conversations are also welcomed at (812) 237-8624. 

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