Green Light Leadership

Green Light Means Go!

Ask almost any young learner what a “green light” means and they will say, “GO!”  Drivers will say a green light signals them to move forward, but implies so much more.  Katherine Knox examines “Green Light” actions that keep a school moving forward consistently and effectively.

Green Light Actions

As every skilled driver knows, a green light means a lot more than just “GO!” It also signals us to:

  1. Increase the intensity of our environmental awareness,
  2. Use a variety of necessary embedded skills quickly (like using the mirrors, releasing the brake, checking the dashboard, having full awareness of the rules of the road), and then
  3. Apply the gas smoothly!

How can this type of thinking help school leaders?

Green Light Actions 1: increase the intensity of environmental awareness

Awareness of Self

Does your leadership depend  primarily on title and placement?  Or, are you a leader who has moved up the steps of self-awareness and effectiveness to be what I call, a “linked leader,” using experience and acumen to promote sustained growth?  Be honest with yourself about where you are right now in your school on the leadership continuum.

Your perceived leadership level will necessarily define your level of real authority. Take a moment to reflect on this question.  In which area of leadership to do you find yourself relying most in your daily work: on assigned leadership authority, on rapport building, on outreach strategies, or on linked and courageous leadership?  How do you use your leadership level to accomplish high achievement and growth in your school?

Awareness of Change

Change. It’s happening right before your eyes. School reform, education policy, assessment, technological innovation, management systems . . . . and with all those changes come decisions about where to put time to make the most impact.  Attempting to focus on the “trivial many” instead of the “vital few” areas each day gets leaders into trouble.  When reacting to what appears to be a problem, one can also fail to address the hidden causes of that problem which may exist at a deeper level.

Is the change consistent with current values or is it an overturning of some of them?  Change, and its impact, as an area for attentive leadership in your school environment, requires reflection with your teams, not just implementation.

Awareness of School Culture and Environment

One tool I’ve used successfully with many schools, is an informal culture and environmental audit. A leader may not think she or he has time to consider auditing the culture or the physical environment of a school, but such action informs decisions and may uncover areas that have been hidden and need attention. Taking stock is vital for unified achievement and growth.

Green Light Actions 2: identify and use embedded skills and knowledge

Make Sense of Data

Do you ever feel you have lots and lots of data, but insufficient or disorganized information? Data is easy to find; accurate, holistic information however, may take a bit more work to get, and this is what leaders need in order to prioritize and act effectively.   If you find yourself saying, “If only this report included . . . . ” or “I feel like I’m missing . . .” you are intuitively realizing a need for better information. If your data is coming from lots of places and addressing different parts of the system, get someone to assist with integrating the data into a form you can use consistently to monitor growth, inform better discussions, and to act upon as the needs arise.  It’s easy to get off the path of mission and vision when data is incomplete or frustrating to use.

Be Aware of What Works

What methods are other people using in the classroom to advance learning?  I have found the work of John Hattie, the Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, particularly useful here. Author of “Visible Learning” , Hattie has undertaken an extensive meta-analysis of what really works and has visible effects on learning.

There may be personal preferences for certain methods in a school but it is in valuable for teams to examine their current preferences in light of other methods that may have had even greater effects on learning, retention, engagement, or achievement. Spend precious time finding out about what works.

Promote Peer Coaching

It is vital to identify staff skills and to use them for the good of the school by promoting peer coaching. Effective conversations, collaborative use of information, and conflict resolution are all part of coaching, which in turn are all indicative of an effective and successful school. Give it a budget!

Green Light Actions 3: apply the gas and move forward smoothly

By using green light thinking as a starting point for action, a leader can uncover and leverage mental models, build motivation, use evidence and promote strategic reflections. Effective action and a smoother ride follow. If you would like to know more,  Green Light Leadership for School Leaders includes examples from real people as well as reflective strategies and proven tools and tactics to inform daily leadership. Enjoy the journey!

Kathryn A. T. Knox

Green Light Leadership For School Leaders Paperback – by Kathryn A. T. Knox Ph.D


Click on the book cover to follow the link to


Dr. Kathryn A.T. Knox has had over 30 years of education experience (including university, international, online, and public charter schools), as a teacher, coach, administrator and senior director.  She has also overseen accountability, accreditation and special services and worked as a consultant with boards, administrators, and teachers in many districts.




Feature Image: Pixabay

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