Some Thoughts and Ideas
I’m pretty sure that the whole “apple and tree” thing comes up so frequently because there’s some truth to it. The apple really does seem to fall pretty darn close to the tree. Remember though, apples do come in all shapes and sizes, they are unique from one another in many ways (even those from the same tree), and they have the capacity to grow, and to change. I think I’m not talking about apples any more. Regardless, I would argue that modeling plays a big part in growth and development. Furthermore, I find modeling to be an invaluable practice of leaders who seek to influence positive development within the communities that they serve, and among the populations of those communities.
Like apples, leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Isn’t it cool when we see a kindergartener being kind to his peers in overt and intentional ways? A kid is showing his leadership value when he makes sure that everyone get’s a turn, or shares some of his snack because someone else forgot to bring one, or takes the time to build friendships with those who are to shy to reach out. Education thrives when leadership is not only distributed, but also recognized in all of its myriad forms. Below are seven ways one might consider modeling effective leadership. I assume that many leadership/education blog readers are already doing these things in their personal and professional lives. I would suggest that insomuch as you are (and whether or not you intend to), you are working to guid others down a path to productivity and wellbeing. By being prescriptive about the ways in which you lead, you are well positioned to perpetuate a positive culture of distributed leadership.
1. Stay Grounded In Your Core Values
Covey relentlessly reminds me of this important leadership practice, and I appreciate it! The first step to making this happen is to clearly articulate your core values in one form or another. Even a quick list scratched out on a legal pad will do. What do you hold sacred? Why have you chosen a career in education? At he end of each day, if you accomplish one thing, what would you like it to be? A few concepts that come to mind as I scratch out my list are kindness, open-mindedness, reflective thinking, autonomy within collaboration, progress, and patience. There are more, but simply articulating this group gets my wheels turning. How am I functioning as a school leader within these categories? What could I do to enhance the connection between my work and my core values? Is that connection impacting the community that I serve in positive ways? Where could I shift my thinking/practice to gain positive momentum toward collective outcomes?
I recently had a meeting with a mentor who reminded me how important it is to be authentic in my convictions, and to see them through. Our discussion brought to light the often-difficult nature of facilitating cultural shifts. He is currently engaged in an ongoing process by which the school community he leads is updating their strategic plan. He has committed to developmental structures that give voice to the community. Those who are served by the plan will develop the plan. It resonates deeply with me because our district is doing the same. To that end, our superintendent has worked hard to design and implement a process based his clearly articulated core values of collaboration and stakeholder ownership. He has invited the gamut of our community members to contribute through varied means. He has made clear that this is to be “our” plan, and that every voice will be listened to, heard, and valued as it unfolds. A great way to model leadership and build enthusiasm for positive progress!
2. Keep Moving Forward
It ain’t always easy to stay the course. Especially because we’re fallible, and there are many bumps, twists, and turns along any given trail we attempt to tread. Education provides us with lots of opportunities to feel that throwing the towel in is an option. However, we know full well that it isn’t. Re-consider, adapt, change your mind, shift your thinking, stomp your feet and pound your fists if you must…but never give up! Simply the modeling of optimism, and a commitment to positive forward progress toward any goal, with any group, in any situation, can mean the difference between growth and stagnation. A lot of “any’s,” no doubt, but I’m standing by it.
3. Trust Your Gut
Remember “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” The scene where Indiana Jones stepped off what appeared to be a menacing cliff, into what appeared to be a gigantic abyss? I don’t recommend that. However, I do appreciate the decision as it relates to leadership modeling. Dr. Jones (while a fictional character) was well read in biblical history and lore; he studied countless texts, paintings, and artifacts, had critical conversations, taught college level courses, and was guided by his father’s detailed journal. In the end though, he had to make a decision based on a feeling. The feeling was generated in large part by his extensive preparation…but it was still a feeling. Do you ever have a feeling about the right thing to do and the right way to do it? I do.
There is a whole bunch of grey in education. I believe that’s one of the reasons we spend so much time thinking and talking about failure as a path to achievement. Edison knew something about how a light bulb would eventually hold and project sustained light. He wasn’t going in to each of thousands of experimental attempts blind, but he did need to trust his gut to some extent. He knew that the thing he aimed for was possible, just as Indiana Jones new that something was going to prevent him from falling as a result of his “leap of faith.” Sometimes it doesn’t matter that we can detail the “why” or the “how” of a thing. It’s fine line though. As leaders (even if we’re only leading ourselves down life’s path) we have to hone our gut-trusting abilities.
As with any aspect of life, in leadership, degrees of caution are required for progress. We can practice by taking reasonable risks. Reach out to someone who you feel would be interested in collaboration. Implement an after school program that gives some student group a voice in your school improvement plan. Offer selected teachers, students, and parents learning tools that you may not fully have vetted yourself. Try Stuff when your gut tells you it’s good stuff to try. The more you do it in non-earth-shattering situations, the better you will be at doing it when the ground threatens to shake a bit. Also, the modeling will help to generate a sense of value, autonomy, and even enthusiasm in those who you serve, and those who share leadership responsibilities in your organization and in your community.
4. Be Reflective (Learn)
It tends to be much easier for me to dole out advice that to take it. I’m getting better though. I’m becoming increasingly reflective. Occasionally I find myself working to help others through challenging situations by reminding them that patience is a virtue, or that it takes two people to have an argument, or things usually work out better when you think before you speak. During many of those occasions I realize that the same advise would work well for me. I feel a bit silly at first, but then I realize the opportunity I’m facing. I can take that advice. I can enter any advice into my paradigm of regular reflection, and I can use it to help me develop in to the kind of father, husband, educator, and person that I’m constantly aiming to be.
Life is filled with chances to think about what you might have done. I would suggest that the most effective reflective practices take it in a bit of a different direction, asking: What will I do know? What will I do next? Organizations, systems, programs, and people are ever-evolving things. When leaders model the ware withal to move through their own individual evolutionary processes as reflective adapters, they stand to perpetuate cultures that are capable of the same. If you value growth and development born from reflection, model it. You will find that people appreciate the open-minded, adaptable, forward thinking practice of truly reflective leadership. I believe that reflective leadership can dig deep in enhancing organizational outcomes.
Stuff takes time! If you believe in one or more of the practices outlined in this post, make a commitment to incorporate it/them into your leadership practice. If not, make sure that you do know what works for you, and re-up your commitment to that/those things. If you are already deeply committed to the leadership practices that fit you and your community, and need no further development…well done. You can take a nap now.
Of course, there are varied levels of commitment. Some commitments are intended to last for a lifetime, while others are meant to be relatively short-term and experimental. The key is to see things through to their end. Don’t be wishy-washy. Your population of students, parents, and colleagues will appreciate your well thought out & decisive nature. They will come to understand and feel comfortable that your word is your bond, and that things get will get done when and how they are supposed to. When I do this well, I always see positive results. When I drop the ball on this (which unfortunately happens), I tend to experience disappointment from others, and myself, along with a diminished enthusiasm for progress. While those things can be repaired with authentic and sympathetic communication, it’s best to avoid them when possible. When leaders regularly model fulfilling intentional commitments to things that they can handle well, they promote a relaxed sense of comfort among those they serve.
I would not presume to tell you what you should believe; just that believing seems to be a good way to go, and therefore, a good thing to model. I happen to believe that big dreams, hard work, and wellbeing are three essential ingredients to a productive and joyful life. I end my blog posts by asserting “Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.,” specifically because of that belief. Take it or leave it. However, it’s been a great practice as I reflect through this blog. It repeatedly grounds me in that set of beliefs, and while they are already deep-seeded aspects of who I am and how I function, I find the reminders helpful. Some educators believe that all students can learn, some believe that the ‘good’ in everyone will eventually shine through, and some believe that every integration is a pathway to learning. Making your belief system overt in your words and actions helps people understand who you are and how you operate. When leaders are intentional about modeling this practice they are likely to enjoy the reciprocal benefit of similar output from others, which enhances relationships and generates companionate communication, development, and growth.
7. Appreciate Adapted Outcomes
It doesn’t always work out the way you intended, but it does always work out. The train is going to keep moving whether or not you’re on it. It’s all right to be disappointed in outcomes, but it’s not all right to dwell. One good way to be all right with the way things work out (when they don’t work out the way you wanted them to) is to appreciate it. Adapted outcomes can be very useful to organizational leaders. In part because they have hence become the reality of things, and in part because they can provide great insights as to how things have evolved. Model excitement over outcomes as points along a path and you will be modeling patience, genuine learning, trust in the process of growth, and comfort with change. All important leadership concepts to keep in mind as you work to fulfill you individual goals and address the vision of your school and district communities.
In writing this post I’m suggesting that any one of the above ways is a decent starting point for a brainstorm regarding leadership. However, while I have a long way to go, my development has led me to consider that any and all combinations therein could be useful as scaffolding for quality leadership and leadership modeling (arguably one in the same). That in mind, I think any and all advice should be dissected. I think it should be broken down to its smallest parts, questioned and even denied, laughed at, kicked around, and crumpled up into little bits of unrecognizable fire fodder. Then, if an inkling of connected interest remains, it should be considered in whatever ways the considerer feels comfortable. Only if that process ends with some sort of “aha” moment should the advice be adopted. So do what you will with what you just read, and please keep in mind that I’d love to hear about it! As always, your input is welcome and appreciated.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.