Being President (head of school) for Maryland’s largest Catholic school, Our Lady of Good Counsel, in Olney, Maryland, has taught Paul Barker a thing or two about the secrets to a happy school and meaningful educational experience for students, faculty, parents and heads of school.
Kalix: What is the most important leadership quality for a head of school?
Paul Barker: Trust. The need to be trustworthy and to be seen as trustworthy in a school and throughout the complexities of everything that goes on is essential. There is something of a control freak in all of us who aspire to leadership. Early in my career, I [wanted] to say ‘Step aside, let me do it.’ Over time, [I’ve had] the wisdom of understanding that with colleagues, you give people the chance to do it their way. You show people that you trust their judgement and tell them that you trust their judgement. The results are startling. Good things happen when you trust your team.
Kalix: What is the most underrated quality?
Barker: Perseverance. This is a job where you can’t always get to a happy place quickly or, sometimes, not at all. Sometimes, things are simply baffling. Human beings are peculiar creations, and you can’t always understand why people hang onto things. You have to persevere and accept the idiosyncrasies of people. When you are used to going 100 miles per hour, you have to learn to be patient and learn to listen and understand. I went to Catholic grade school and had a nun who would ask us to pray for her perseverance. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Kalix: What was your first job at a school and what did it teach you about leadership?
Barker: My first job in education was as a substitute Physical Education teacher at my high school in [my hometown] of Lower Hutt, New Zealand. I learned to be prepared and not take the good things for granted. I learned this from the leader of the school. He was really good about tending to his faculty. He made sure we had social time on Fridays. I still remember it.
Kalix: What is your best advice for independent school leaders?
Barker: I have three mantras: First, never lose sight of the mission. Boards change in composition, and often the change can be abrupt, but the mission doesn’t change. Second, it’s all about relationships. Work hard at the relationships if you want a happy school. The last one I learned from a guy who was principal of large public high schools in Ohio. He said, that which you reinforce tends to happen. I tell this to new teachers and say it at faculty events. If you tell students what you expect, they will do it. Behavior, values, traditions – whatever you reinforce tends to happen. If not, you get what you get. This works in families and organizations, too.
About Paul Barker
Dr. Paul Barker has been President of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, the largest Catholic high school in Maryland, since July 2011. Prior, he was Principal at The John Carroll School in Maryland, development director at St. Edward High School in Ohio, and has taught English at schools in the United States and New Zealand. He is a board member of the Association of Maryland and DC Independent Schools (AIMS), Barnesville School of Arts and Sciences (Md.) and St. John’s Preparatory (Mass.). He is a former commissioner of the AIMS Accreditation Commission, has chaired accreditation teams, and has served as a case study facilitator for the Mid-Career Doctorate in Educational Leadership program at University of Pennsylvania.
He received his Ed. D. from the University of Pennsylvania, M.A. in Educational Administration from Ursuline College, M.A. in Liberal Arts from The Graduate Institute of St. John’s College in Annapolis, and a B.A. in English Language and Literature from Victoria University in his native New Zealand. Dr. Barker also has an Advanced Professional Certificate, Administrator I & English Grades 7-12, from the Maryland State Department of Education.
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Leaders on Leading: Joe Powers, Head of School, The Woods Academy