Leadership lessons from the editor: thanks Jens

Sask Bulletin
October 10, 2021
By Jane Macleod, Senior Manager, Research and Records

Sometimes we learn as much, or more, from the people around us as we do from the blogs, articles or texts of prominent educational leaders around the world. Our colleagues can be a source of influence and inspiration and the practice of reflecting upon the contributions of others enables us to add to, and personalize, our own leadership repertoire.

Saskatchewan Bulletin Editor Jens Nielsen retired last month, and it is timely to reflect upon Jens’ approach and work ethic and consider what school leaders across the province might learn from a colleague who has spent over 20 years working with educators in Saskatchewan.

1. Be honest. Any who have worked with or interviewed with Jens know that he is not one to hold back. His editorials were candid and his expression was unpretentious and unreserved, even when addressing a thorny issue. Writing guides tell us to write for our audience and in a school setting, whether writing newsletters for the community or updates for staff, successful communication ensures that important points are professional, forthright and not clouded in education jargon. Your audience will appreciate the conciseness and the clarity.

2. Be credible. Editors tell writers to do their research and to take time to dig a little deeper to get the whole story. Journalists work hard to get their copy to press quickly, however, they know that the absence of critical facts or worse, the misrepresentation of facts, can have career-limiting consequences. Similarly, school leaders know the value of getting to the bottom of the story. Today, where nuanced scoops are spread and amplified via Instagram, Facebook posts, memes or cartoons, exercising patience and taking time to learn the full story is critical. Integrity always matters.

3. Be yourself. A 1984 article by William Safire in the New York Times defines principle as something you stand for in life, something that is absolute and unyielding. Those who know Jens agree that he is principle-driven. His editorial observations and commentary were characterized by his steadfast commitment to the principles of equity and transparency. Experiences from established school leaders tell us that when preparing to communicate, be it via a text, an update, a presentation or a traditional newsletter, they work hard to ensure that the style, the tone, the vocabulary and the message are unvarnished. Their words and expressions are neither patronizing or condescending; rather they are consistent with their professional beliefs and principles. Not only do successful principals and vice-principals walk the talk, they also own the message – even the difficult ones.

4. Be practical. Too much information can be overwhelming, and one might argue that the theme of many posts, blogs, reports and journal articles is interesting. However, the question must be asked, is the information useful? As editor, Jens had an eye for articles that were both interesting and useful to Saskatchewan educators. Such attention to interest and usefulness is equally applicable and appropriate to school leaders’ communication. Information and communication today can be relentless and ensuring that each message conveys information that is interesting, relevant and useful is a good habit to acquire.

5. Be attentive. As Bulletin editor, Jens was a solid colleague of both the communications team and the wider Federation staff. We benefited from his wit, his sometimes-acerbic observations and his uncanny ability to always be in the right place at the right time. Conversations with teacher colleagues suggest that such attributes characterize most memorable school leaders. Given today’s relentless demands on principals and vice-principals, finding time to relax and connect with staff not only refreshes one’s thinking, but it also strengthens relationships.

Regardless of our education or experience, often it’s the people we meet and work with that have a profound influence on our leadership attitudes and actions.

Looking back, we’ve learned a lot from Jens over the years. His work has left a powerful impact on educators and education across Saskatchewan. Thanks, Jens.

One last lesson: 

6. Be unpredictable and always wear funky shoes!