EduQuote of the Week: February 27 – March 5, 2017

Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.

Ola Joseph

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Teach & Serve II, No. 29 – Leadering: Knowing Oneself

Teach & Serve II, No. 29 – Leadering: Knowing Oneself

February 22, 2017

People who do not wish to know themselves this well typically do not make effective leaders or, rather, they are not as effective leaders as they could be.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Teach & Serve will be discussing “leadering” activities.  In essence, these are the critical steps, as I see them, that individuals take as they become leaders. These are the universal gates through which they pass. These are their shared signposts they come across. These are the things leaders do as they go about “leadering?”

  1. KNOWING ONESELF
  2. Identifying Weaknesses before Celebrating Strengths
  3. Honing Communication Skills
  4. Exercising Authority Appropriately
  5. Achieving Balance and Blend
  6. Humbling Oneself
  7. Letting Go

Knowing oneself is the baseline for leadership. If you do not know who you are, your leadership is undermined before it has a chance to begin.

I have watched leaders around me, both the good leaders and the bad ones, and I have tried to figure out what makes good leaders good and bad leaders, well, other than good. One of the qualities that most good leaders I know display is a comfort and confidence with who they are.

Good leaders know themselves. They know what makes themselves tick. They know what they are good at, what they need help with and what they should shy away from. They know where they are comfortable and, perhaps more importantly, they know where they are not.

During the run up to taking on leadership, development of knowledge of oneself is the most important leadering activity there is. Leaders should look for those activities which will enhance their knowledge of themselves. They must look for these activities if they are to reach their potential as leaders.

Leadership is not about putting on a hat or wearing a mask. Sound leadership is about recognizing a desire in oneself to lead and to serve others. It is also about recognizing from where that desire comes. Does it come – primarily – from an altruistic place or does it come from a selfish one? Does one desire leadership to improve the lives of those with whom one works or does one desire leadership to improve one’s one standing, one’s bank account, one’s prestige.

Leaders come from many places with many motivations. Each of these motivations can produce effective leaders. However, knowing from where one’s leadership stems is critically important.

And to truly know that, one must open oneself up to oneself. It may read silly, but it is not. Leaders expect those they lead to be honest. Real. Authentic. They expect those they lead to trust them. Trust comes from knowledge. Leaders must have a deep knowledge of self – of those lights and shadows we all work through and we all carry with us – to be the most effective leader they can be.

People who do not wish to know themselves this well typically do not make effective leaders or, rather, they are not as effective leaders as they could be. If you do not want to look carefully at who you are, your leadership will always have an inauthentic tone. It will not be all it can be. More importantly, those you lead will sense a lack of something. They will note that you are less genuine that you might be and that will affect your leadership. Perhaps greatly.

Leadering activities that help someone know her or himself better are as important as anything else a leader can do as they mature. They are the most important leadering activities of all.

EduQuote of the Week: February 20 – 26, 2017

“Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” he said, his voice rising as applause and cheers mounted. “Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’.” We are going to press on. We have work to do.

President Barack Obama

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Teach & Serve II, No. 28 – Leadering

Teach & Serve II, No. 28 – Leadering

February 15, 2017

If you are a leader, reflecting on the steps which got you there is a good exercise. If you want to become a leader, considering the leadering activities that will get you there is just as healthy a pursuit.

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps is a book by Kelly Williams Brown that was published in 2013 which quickly became something of a hit. The book details steps (468 of them!) a young person takes on the way to becoming and adult and the term “adulting” refers to those steps.

“Hey, you rented your first apartment! You are adulting!” and so forth.

The idea of traversing rites of passage on the way from youth to adulthood was nothing new, but Williams Brown plugged into the culture zeitgeist with the “adulting” term. I heard and continue to hear my own children use it among themselves and their friends as they take on more responsibility, endure more adult situations and discover what it means to grow older.

It is a pretty cool concept which got me thinking about the rites of passage people undertake on their journeys to be leaders. This is an excellent time for me to consider this as I am spending the week with a group of committed and talented educators, working with them in a program called Seminars in Ignatian Leadership. The program is designed to challenge participants to see themselves as leaders, to hone their definitions of leadership, to learn tools to utilize in their leadership and to help them become reflective as they take on new roles of leadership. All of this is informed and inspired by the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola, an excellent leader to emulate.

What, then, are some steps individuals take as they become leaders? Are their universal gates through which they pass? Are their shared signposts they come across? Just how do leaders go about “leadering?”

As many books have been written on this topic as have been written about the progress from childhood to adulthood, and I’m not writing a book here, just a blog post (or eight). None of what I discuss here is particularly revolutionary, nor is any of it incredibly original. These points spin out of the research, writings and speeches of people like Parker Palmer, Janet Hagberg, Simon Sinek, DeWitt Jones, Ed Catmull and others. Each has her or his own way to consider leadering activities and there are many ways to consider this topic. However, in my humble opinion, the following “leadering” steps are shared by most of those who become excellent leaders.

  1. Knowing Oneself
  2. Identifying Weaknesses before Celebrating Strengths
  3. Honing Communication Skills
  4. Exercising Authority Appropriately
  5. Achieving Balance and Blend
  6. Humbling Oneself
  7. Letting Go

Each of these topics deserves, I think, something of an in-depth explanation and, rather than turning this post into a novella, I’ll take them on individually over the next seven weeks.

If you are a leader, reflecting on the steps which got you there is a good exercise. If you want to become a leader, considering the leadering activities that will get you there is just as healthy a pursuit.

Leadering is a pursuit we should celebrate in our schools. Our current leadership (of which many of us are a part) will not be in place forever. Are we looking internally for our next collection of leaders – those people who know our culture and know or systems? Or is it important to look outside our institution for new voices and new perspectives. In either instance, we want to identify leaders who are ready to lead, leaders who have already completed their share of leadering.

Those leaders who have intentionally gone about leadering may well step into positions more ready to succeed than those who have not leadered.

Give me leaders who understand leadering.

EduQuote of the Week: February 13 – 19, 2017

Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.

Coretta Scott King

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Teach & Serve II, No. 27 – You Never Can Tell

Teach & Serve II, No. 27 – You Never Can Tell

February 8, 2017

A leader is challenged by something new, something for which no one planned. The leader looks at the team and says “we’re doing this.”

Do yourself a favor: take 9 minutes and watch the video below. Here is a true story: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band were performing in Germany a few years back and Springsteen notices a sign propped up on someone’s cooler bag. He asks for the sign to be passed up to the stage and on it is written “You Never Can Tell” the title of a Chuck Berry song (likely better known today as a cut from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, and the song Uma Thurman and John Travolta famously Batuzi-ed to). Springsteen, and his audience, know the tradition: fans bring signs to concerts in the hopes the band will take requests and play one or two of these. Typically, this does not happen. Bands are locked in to their playlists, but we are talking about Bruce Springsteen here. After noting that he has not played this song in years, like since he was 16, Springsteen engages in trial-and-error that goes on for almost five minutes trying to find an appropriate key for himself and the band. He mocks himself, laughs, jokes with the band and then… well, again, do yourself a favor and take a look.

You’ve got 9 minutes to spare.

I’ll wait for you.

Wow, right? I mean, just WOW! The band has not played this song together. They have not practiced it. Their lead singer has not sung it in years and they pull it off. No, they not only pull it off, they nail it. And, look at them, they have a GREAT time doing it.

I am not sure why this video showed up in my Facebook feed this week, but, I am so glad it did. I am a guitarist (not a good one, mind you) and I get revved up by good, driving beats, I get charged up by good music and I simply love it when Springsteen notes “maybe I’m a little over ambitious, give me a capo.” The E Street Band, while they trust the Boss, look at him like he might be pulling them into a big mistake in front of a gigantic crowd. But they go along with him. And then Springsteen pulls the crowd in, asking them for their help. Suddenly it’s “Here we go! ONE! TWO!” and the song rocks.

I love this video, not just for the fun of it, the joy of it. I love it because of what is going on here. A leader is challenged by something new, something for which no one planned. The leader looks at the team and says “we’re doing this.”

How often do we as leaders shy away from this kind of opportunity? And why do we do so? When we are confronted with new and changing dynamics, when things for which we did not plan come up on-the-fly, instinct often tells us to shut them down, delay them, put them aside. There may well be good reason for this in some instances. However, if we have assembled talented teams we trust, people in whom we can put our faith and who have put their faith in us, should we not, at least sometimes, take on new challenges as they present themselves? Should we not trust ourselves, trust the team, trust the energy that can be created when something spontaneous happens?

Yes, there are risks involved. Perhaps our team looks at us as if we have slipped a groove. Maybe this opportunity hits in real time in front of a live audience – students, parents, our colleagues – and the stakes feel high.

And, perhaps, our style of leadership just has not allowed for the possibility of responding in this manner, of letting loose, of feeling a crest of energy rising and tapping into it.

If that is the case, that is unfortunate, because, as most classroom teachers who have had a lesson go left when they thought it would go right would remind us, what we have not planned for can often result in a tremendous class and vivid, teachable moments. What we have not planned for can be exciting and fun and memorable.

There are times our egos do not allow us to act spontaneously because we are paralyzed by how we might look if things do not go well. We are concerned about a loss of cache with our community. We are worried that we have to know the answer to the problem before we have started to work the equation and, in this, we sometimes lose the chance for magic to happen.

As leaders, we can be locked down in our approach, tied up in our procedures. We can face new challenges by putting them down, setting them aside, pushing them off. We can be intimidated by the moment and back away from it.

You never can tell what might happen if you let go and give it a shot. You never can tell what might occur if you and your team trust one another, put ego aside and say “let’s give this a shot, we trust each other and we are going to see what we can do together.” You never can tell what results from a leader who looks at her colleagues and empowers them to move as a group in a new direction.

You never can tell.

EduQuote of the Week: February 6 – 12, 2017

Have a vision. Be demanding.

General Colin Powell

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Teach & Serve II, No. 26 – Expectations Change. Get Used to It.

Teach & Serve II, No. 26 – Expectations Change. Get Used to It.

February 1, 2017

If we are not changing, looking for new ways to do things, for new ways to interact, to teach, to lead, then we are not suited for work in schools.

There are all kinds of adages about change I won’t bother to quote as I begin those most simple and, perhaps, the most brief of any Teach & Serve I have written to date. We know that that things change, that people change. As educators and institutional leaders, are we not all about change?

Students come to us as one thing, they leave another hopefully positively influenced by their time with us. We anticipate and expect them to change. In fact, if they were not changing, something would be horribly wrong with how we have structured our environment.

We anticipate changes in curriculum and the tools we use to teach (if we do not anticipate changes here, we should get out of the game). We know that curriculum and the tools used to deliver it will change. We (hopefully!) embrace this idea. Get ahead of it. Are inspired by it.

But when expectations of us change, how do we react? When we are confronted with the reality that those for whom we are responsible seem to have new expectations of what we will do, how we will teach, the manner in which we lead, how do we respond? Do we face such changes with the same enthusiasm we apply to the ones mentioned earlier or do we have a reaction which suggests, “hey, you knew this about me – you knew this is who I am and how I do things”?

Look, expectations of teachers have changed and will continue to do so. Expectations of administrators have, likewise, changed and will continue to do so. If you believe who you are when you started this work is who you will be ten, fifteen, twenty years into it or ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, I seriously encourage you to think again.

If we are not changing, looking for new ways to do things, for new ways to interact, to teach, to lead, then we are not suited for work in schools.

We are surrounded by change. Why should we be exempt?

Expectations of us change. Get used to it.