Teach & Serve III, No. 28 – Followership

Teach & Serve III, No. 28 – Followership

February 21, 2018

… how do we, as educational leaders, respond when those above us in the food chain make mistakes, missteps or errors? How do we react when they are not their best selves or when they handle us and situations in a manner we neither understand nor appreciate?

First, let us get this out of the way: our schools exist to serve our students. They – in a very real sense – are the bosses and they should be in charge. Not many of our organizational charts for our schools reflect that, however. Our org charts illustrate the adults who are “in charge.”

Okay. Fair enough.

When considering that, we can note that very few of us are actually the “Big Boss” or the “Head Cheese” or the “El Numero Uno Honcho” of our contexts. Schools are hierarchical systems. Typically, no matter our position as educational leaders, we answer to someone. Teachers answer to department chairs, department chairs to assistant principals, assistant principals to principals, principals answer to presidents, presidents to boards, and so on. This comes as little surprise to any of us working in schools.

It should also come as no surprise, then, that how we follow says very much about how we lead.

If we are good leaders, we expect that we will be followed. Whether we are consultative, collaborative or servant leaders – how ever we define our leadership – we anticipate that, if we are doing a good job as leaders, we will be followed. But even the best leadership cannot function in the real world without sometimes creating conflict or friction or unintended confusion. We know this. No process is perfect. No system is perfect. No leader is perfect. Not everything will go as we intended or planned.

If we are competent leaders leaning toward good leaders, we can navigate these waters and restore faith and trust. If we do a good job in that process, all will be well. Importantly, though, our followers must allow us to do a good job. The reservoir of faith and trust we have built up indicates much about how we will recover.

But so does our followership and here is the point: how do we, as educational leaders, respond when those above us in the food chain make mistakes, missteps or errors? How do we react when they are not their best selves or when they handle us and situations in a manner we neither understand nor appreciate? Do we presume their good will, listen to their explanations, give them the benefit of the doubt? Do we reflect on what has happened and consider our role in the issue? Do we seek to come to resolution, conclusion and positive outcomes? Or do we perseverate? Complain? Gossip? Vent?

As educational leaders, how we model followership may well be as important as how we lead.

EduQuote of the Week: February 19 – 25, 2018

Sisterhood and Brotherhood Week

It’s a commonly expressed and rather nice, romantic notion that we are all “sisters” and “brothers.” Let’s be real. Fact is, we might be better served to accept that we are all siblings. Siblings fight, pull each other’s hair, steal stuff, and accuse each other indiscriminately. But siblings also know the undeniable fact that they are the same blood, share the same origins, and are family.

– Vera Nazarian

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Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 13 – Power and Responsibility

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 13

Power and Responsibility

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


If you have seen a Spider-Man (and, yes, the use of the hyphen is correct!) movie, then you are likely to be familiar with this mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Peter Parker’s uncle Ben shared this nugget of wisdom with his young nephew shortly before the old man met his fate – a fate (in an ironic twist of fate) Peter could have prevented.

Ben did not know his nephew was endowed with super powers. He did not know that his nephew would, eventually, become one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world. What he did know is that people have power. They have power to affect change.

His challenge to Peter is to use his power – whatever power he has – for good. He reminds him that, to do nothing when you can do something, is wrong. If one possesses the power to act for the good of others, they should.

What a message this is to all of us. Of the many, many messages that comic books and super hero movies and pop culture conveys, this is one of my favorites because it is simple and it is powerful.

If you have blessings, use them.

If you have power, exercise it for good.

If you are privileged, you have responsibilities.

Follow them.

Follow Spider-Man.

There are worse role models…

 

EduQuote of the Week: February 12 – 18, 2018

Take Your Family to Work Week

I actually look forward to Take Your Daughter to Work Day. I’m not great with kids, but I want to get better. Because I’m getting married. So I put on a bunch of extra candy on my desk so the kids will come talk to me. Like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” so kids will come talk to me.

– Pam Beasley, The Office

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Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

Teach & Serve III, No. 26 – When Leadership Lets Us Down

February 7, 2018

What happens when we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

This week, I have the great pleasure of working with a group of educators from Jesuit schools across the US and Canada as they focus on what makes them great leaders and what they can do to make themselves even better. This is such a terrific blessing of my work and it challenges me to focus in on significant questions facing educational leaders today.

Many (most?) of the blogs I have composed for Teach & Serve reflect on or reference conditions wherein good leadership is present in a school. They are written from a perspective assuming solid norms and procedures, relatively healthy environments and excellent standards for behavior.  

Let us be honest: those conditions do not always pertain.

Where does that leave individuals who wish optimal (or, at least, functional) leadership is in play? Where does that leave those who aspire to greater things for themselves and for their schools? Where does that leave people who seek perpetual improvement?

These are challenging questions, to be sure.

But there are answers.

Like the best answers, they start from within us. They start with us making honest and clear assessments of who we are in our leadership and of how we relate to the leaders and systems around us. The best answers ask us to ask ourselves hard questions.

And to answer them.

Good leaders know that one of the fundamental qualities of leadership is authenticity. I have written previously that I believe it to be the central and most important quality of a good leader. Good leaders, then, take the questions they are posing outward and turn them within.

If leadership is bad in our schools, we must ask ourselves if we are part of the issue. What role have we played to sour the milk? Have we contributed to an environment that is less than ideal? We must be willing to examine ourselves as a necessary first step.

And what happens, then, if we find that we have – in good faith – done all we can to eliminate issues, to find middle ground, to offer constructive approaches, to build and become bridges? What do we do when our leadership is actually not very good or working in ways that counter the well-being of the school?

We must, then, assess what change we can make from where we are. We must consider who we can help and for what reason. If our challenge of authority and status quo and broken systems is for the good of our students (and the good of the adult community – a secondary good; students come first) then we are called to confront.

We must respectfully disagree and offer alternatives. We must exercise the authority we have as teachers and as educational leaders within the same structures our chairs and administrators occupy. We must speak truth – truth to colleagues, truth to power. We must do so offering suggestions and solutions, through-lines and conclusions and ways forward. We must be willing to suffer slings, arrows, criticisms and critiques.

When we are authentic, when we act from our true selves, all of this, though incredibly heavy to shoulder, is worth the weight.

If our systems hurt our students, if our leaders are negligent in their most important tasks, they must be examined and changed. They might even need to be set aside or torn down.

However, our seats in the school, our positions and our power along with the management and leadership styles of our superiors may make true and lasting collaboration and change so difficult as to be impossible.

This can be a bleak state of affairs and cause crises of the heart.

When leadership does not work and is unwilling to reflect and consider change, authentic leaders are in painful positions. If one has done all one can on behalf of students to confront challenges and bad actors, to affect change and to advance the institution and there is no way forward, another question comes into play: is my presence here so important for those I serve that I must stay?

If the answer is yes, it is good to remember that systems alter over time and leaders do not stay in place forever.

If the answer is no, it may well be time for an individual to change one’s circumstance. While that is easier written than done, it may be an inevitable conclusion and a legitimate alternative to continuing frustration and pain.

The best answers start from within. Knowing ourselves is a significant key.

EduQuote of the Week: January 29 – February 4, 2018

Catholic Schools Week

Catholic schools prepare every student to meet the challenges of their future by developing their mind, yes, but also their body and their soul and spirit.

David Vitter

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Teach & Serve III, No. 24 – Support

Teach & Serve III, No. 24 – Support

January 24, 2018

And, from that point on, all he did was support his understudy. He did not sulk. He did not pout. He did not complain.

I am not a college football fan. Growing up, I was (and remain) a devoted follower of the Denver Broncos and, though the University of Colorado was a top ten program from much of my childhood and even won a share of the National Championship in 1988, the year I graduated high school, my affinity was for the NFL in general and the Broncos in particular.

I paid little attention to the college football playoffs this year and would have likely not watched a snap of the title game had my son not been home from college watching it himself. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to be with any of my wife and my college-aged kids, I sat and watched almost the full second half with my son.

And I got to see something that can be great about sports that entirely resonates with our profession as educational leaders.

I saw unconditional and unwavering support.

Allow me to tell you the story, a story that you have probably already heard. The University of Alabama football team, having suffered through a brutal first half on offense, pulled Jalen Hurts, their starting quarterback who had, going into this game, posted an amazing 25 – 2 record. Unhappy with offense production, they sat him, replacing him with backup (and true freshman!) Tua Tagovailoa who went on to win the game and the title for Alabama.

There is much to be written about the boldness of being a leader, about head coach Nick Saban making such a startling and brave choice to change quarterbacks, but this blog is about Hurts.

Jalen Hurts, a sophomore who had done very little but win for Alabama, must have been stunned by his demotion to the sidelines. He must have been in turmoil. Surely, he thought he would lead his team to victory. Certainly, he believed some glory was due him if the team won.

Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa

But the night did not play out the way he must have imagined. He went from starter to cheerleader in the space of a halftime speech.

And, from that point on, all he did was support his understudy. He did not sulk. He did not pout. He did not complain.

Rather, Hurts was the first person to congratulate Tagovailoa. He was at Tagovailoa’s side during timeouts, coaching him up, helping him out, working with him. He cheered him on, encouraged him after a bad interception, patted him on the back, yelled his support.

If the actions of this kid are not prime examples of servant leadership, then I have never seen it.

Sports can and does teach lessons – lessons that improve lives.

And kids can teach us, too.

What an incredible lesson in how to support a teammate. It is a lesson leaders should learn.

EduQuote of the Week: January 22 – 28, 2018

Clean Your Inbox Week

You should hit inbox zero every week. Every day is even better.

Unknown

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Teach & Serve III, No. 23 – I Hear You

Teach & Serve III, No. 23 – I Hear You

January 17, 2018

Anyone with a well-developed auditory sense can listen. Leaders who want to serve the people with whom they work must hear.

In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to discuss myself and my leadership in detailed and reflective ways, asked questions by groups of dedicated educators who were most interested in my answers. I was both lucky and blessed to have been part of three separate search processes – processes looking to identify qualities in applicants for instructional leaders of schools. The conversations were long, intense, exciting and exhilarating one-and-all.

As I moved from conversation-to-conversation, process-to-process, I found myself listening to myself and reflecting on what I was saying in medias res which was a very interesting experience. After all, there are questions that good interview committees will be sure to ask and questions for which I very much needed to be prepared, prepared to give my most honest and authentic responses.

Inevitably, the question of how I would, as the instructional leader, listen to the staffs and the teachers and the students of each respective institution – was raised.

I replied that listening is a critical component of educational leadership, but not the most critical one. And, in fact, I found myself saying, on more than one occasion and working quickly to explain myself, how important it is that people feel as though they are heard.

Hang on, now… “feeling” as though one is heard does not actually indicate that someone has been heard.

Good leaders listen, sure. Good educational leaders are good at listening.

Exceptional educational leaders are exceptionally good at hearing.

Anyone with a well-developed auditory sense can listen. Leaders who want to serve the people with whom they work must hear. The must work at it and hone the skill. They must realize that hearing is so much more important than simply listening.

Hearing implies a desire to connect. Hearing implies wanting to comprehend. Hearing implies action.

Listening is passive. Someone who is listening is just there, in the room or the office, nodding, smiling, listening.

Hearing is active. Someone who is hearing is engaged, asking questions, offering support, giving suggestions.

Leaders who valuing hearing put away all distractions, close their laptops and shut down their tablets. They silence and set aside their phones and they hear.

When a true leader says “I hear you” the person to whom they say it does not just feel heard, she or he knows without a doubt she or he has been heard.

A leader does not just listen, a leader hears.

(oh, and a follow up on those conversations about formal educational leadership is coming…)

Teach & Serve III, No. 22 – Get Real

Teach & Serve III, No. 22 – Get Real

January 10, 2018

Our students want us to be real. They want us to connect with them in real ways. They want to understand what application any and everything we are teaching them has on their real lives. Our staffs want us to be real. They want us to know them in real ways. They want to understand what implication our leadership has on their real lives.

 

You know what our students and staffs want from us as educational leaders?

They want us to get real.

I am an awards season addict. Okay, in fairness, “addict” may be too strong a word. Let us stipulate to the fact that I pay attention to Hollywood awards beginning with the Golden Globes running right on through the Oscars. Yes, they are self-congratulatory. Yes, there is much to criticize about entertainment and Hollywood culture. Yes, there is typically something vacuous about all this.

Yes, yes, yes.

But, at last Sunday’s Golden Globes, there was something else. There was a reality to the proceedings, a self-awareness. There was a seriousness about sexual harassment, about women’s roles in the industry, about what inspires good work and why people do it.

There was something real about what was said.

And that was before Oprah Winfrey spoke.

What she said, though inspiring, powerful and worth a listen I think, is not what got me thinking about Teach & Serve this week. The fact that Oprah took advantage of her opportunity to be real, to address real issues, to talk about reality is what most moved me. Her conclusions can be debated as can her reasons for sharing these particular comments at this particular time. But the fact that she was real cannot be.

Our students want us to be real. They want us to connect with them in real ways. They want to understand what application any and everything we are teaching them has on their real lives.

They want us to get real.

Our staffs want us to be real. They want us to know them in real ways. They want to understand what implication our leadership has on their real lives.

They want us to get real.

That is a standard to which excellent educational leadership hold themselves: they are real. They know what they say and what they do affects people and they are clear and careful and conscious of that. They understand that their leadership has real-world consequences and they do not take the responsibility lightly.

Be a better educational leader in 2018.

Get real.