Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 7 – The Old Order Changeth

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 7

The Old Order Changeth

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


In Avengers #16, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby, things are about to change. The roster of the superhero team is about to be re-written. The old order is about to change.

In this issue, Lee coined the phrase “The Old Order Changeth” (in a bastardization of Shakespeare that only Lee could get away with) and this phrase still appears in issues of the comic to this day. In fact, it has appeared in over 115 issues of the title. “The Old Order Changeth” is the catch phrase indicating some heroes are about to move out of Avengers Mansion and others are ready to move in. Reasons for changing up the roster were typically about low sales or the desire to feature a new hero or character.

That’s all well and good.

What I like about this is that changing the roster keeps the Avengers exciting, fresh and, presumably, new.

When the old order changed, it rarely turned over entirely. Rather, stalwarts from one incarnation stayed with the team to shepherd it through the new incarnation. They remained to explain what the Avengers were and what they should be.

I love it.

And that is what leaders do with their teams. They do not surrender to complacency and comfort. They do not settle into routines that are the enemies of creative and courage. Rather, they look to change the order, to bring new people aboard, to offer new opportunities.

And, sometimes, the leader must realize that, for the old order to really “changeth” and for the change to mean anything, the leader herself must go.

It takes Captain America-like bravery to admit that and step aside. Bravery like that in changing the old order must be celebrated.

Teach & Serve III, No. 14 – Highest Duty

Teach & Serve III, No. 14

Highest Duty

November 8, 2017

Leaders support those with whom they work. It is their first and last priority and that mindset informs every priority in between.

I firmly believe that the best leaders serve those they lead just as the best teachers understand they work in service of their students.

I also believe that leaders can only be effective when they are given consent to lead and that classroom teachers are far more effective when the students feel as though they are partners in the learning process.

Yes, some leaders who rely only on authoritarian leadership can push their agendas and compel, by the power of their position, compliance from those who work for them, but I argue that this kind of scenario does not denote leadership.

Leaders support those with whom they work. It is their first and last priority and that mindset informs every priority in between.

Therefore, leaders must be very careful of the structures present in their classrooms and in their schools. They must be aware of the implications policies create in terms of service.

All too often, leaders endorse or create structures and policies that limit their ability to lend needed support. Too frequently, organizations adopt general strictures and broadly apply them at the expense of specific individuals and situations. We tie ourselves in politics, in red tape, and, all too often, in nonsense.

We must cut to the chase: to lead is to serve. To serve is to support. Anything else distracts from our central call as leaders.

What we do in school leadership – as teachers and administrators – is complex work. We need not make our roles to serve more complex by needlessly tying our hands.

A great leader goes to great lengths to provide support. This the highest duty of leadership.

Teach & Serve III, No. 13 – Tyranny of the Immediate

Teach & Serve III, No. 13

Tyranny of the Immediate

November 1, 2017

When leadership cannot work itself out from under the pressures of what must be done to address what ought to be done, institutions can suffer from a lack of creativity, a dearth of energy and an absence of vision.

Related imageI had the once-in-a-lifetime chance a couple weeks back to attend a gathering of Jesuit educators in Rio De Janeiro which was challenging, inspiring and paradigm shifting. I am still processing the event and will surely have more to write about it in coming editions of this blog but, for now, I was struck by something powerful and direct, a point so important I wanted to share it.

David Laughlin is the long tenured and accomplished president of St. Louis University High School. Intelligent, driven, smart and savvy, David is someone to whom to listen in whatever venue he speaks. At this event, he was the first of four keynotes and his words were what I have come to expect from him: useful and practical while being visionary and uplifting.

He spoke about challenges facing Catholic and Jesuit schools, to be sure, but many of his points are applicable to schools of all models, shapes and sizes.

What I found immediately striking and all-but universal was this question: how do we as teachers and school leaders work to vision for our schools – to reach for the always in motion horizon – when we suffer from what David called “the tyranny of the immediate.”

There is so much that we do in our work that must be done when it is right in front of us and I use the word “must” intentionally. This kind of immediate work must be done because, if it is not done, the school cannot function. It may not be the most important work. It may not be the most critical work. But it is the work that cannot be put off, cannot wait, cannot be prioritized lower.

Leaders can be overwhelmed by this kind of work. Their leadership can be short-circuited by this tyranny of the immediate. When leadership cannot work itself out from under the pressures of what must be done to address what ought to be done, institutions can suffer from a lack of creativity, a dearth of energy and an absence of vision.

Good leaders free themselves from the tyranny of the immediate. They understand it and the cope with it. They put it as much behind them as they can, as readily as they can.

The tyranny of the immediate can sink a leader and inadequate leaders believe that addressing the immediate effectively is leadership in-and-of-itself.

It is not. It is simply tyranny and not that far from chaos.

Excellent leaders fight the tyranny of the immediate. And they win.

EduQuote of the Week: October 30 – November 5, 2017

Halloween

We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.

– Stephen King

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Teach & Serve III, No. 12 – Parents Are Partners

Teach & Serve III, No. 12

Parents Are Partners

October 25, 2017

…more parents than not are like my mother. They are advocates, appropriately. They are supportive – of their kids and of their kids’ schools. They are loving.

Today is my mother’s birthday and, no, I will not mention her age.

Looking back on a quarter century of work in education and with the experience of being a parent myself for over 20 years, I can say with certainty that I am very lucky to have Mom by my mom. When I was growing up, Mom was incredibly supportive of me. She was helpful. She was kind. She gave me all that she had (likely more than she should have) and was my strongest and best advocate.

She encouraged my interests. She came to my events. She cheered me on.

She loved me.

Me and Mom circa 1981.

Yet she also allowed me to make choices. She allowed me to fail. She allowed me to learn on our own.

When I had challenges at school – and I had some of these all the way into my college career – she listened, she empathized, she told me, in the first instance, to handle things on my own. If I could not, she would, appropriately, step in and advocate for me. If she felt my “side” was worthy, she would advocate for me, tirelessly.

You would have to ask my sisters if they remember our childhoods and Mom’s support of us in the same manner. I bet they do. We had good childhoods with great parents.

I am aware that not every student with whom I have worked can say the same. That is a reality I learned early in my career and it still causes me great sadness. Not every parent parents like my mom did and not every kid feels as loved as I did.

Still, more parents than not are like my mother. They are advocates, appropriately. They are supportive – of their kids and of their kids’ schools. They are loving.

And, critically, they are our partners.

It is far too easy for us as educators to stereotype parents, to resist their questions, to ignore their emails and calls.

In most cases, the parents of our students only want their children to be successful and they trust us to lead their children to that success. When we work together, supporting the student from both school and home, we have a greater chance to make a positive difference in the lives of those students. When we work with parents, our students will, likely, have a better experience.

If you are an educator of any length of service, you can think of times you have crossed proverbial swords with parents. You may even be able to remember times you took stands with parents that you later questioned. What good comes of this? Who wins?

The real question, when we fight with parents, is who loses?

In almost every case, it is the student who loses.

We are educators and our primary focus must be on the students we serve but, if we forget to first view their parents as our partners until the parents prove otherwise, then we have done our students a great disservice.

Parents are our partners and what better partners could we have than someone who loves our students more than we do?

EduQuote of the Week: October 23 – 29, 2017

Freedom of Speech Week

By limiting or denying freedom of speech and expression, we take away a lot of potential. We take away thoughts and ideas before they even have the opportunity to hatch. We build a world around negatives – you can’t say, think, or do this or that.

– Jill McCorkle

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Teach & Serve III, No. 11 – Get Out of Your Comfort Zones

Teach & Serve III, No. 11

Get Out of Your Comfort Zones

October 18, 2017

Our schools are places where change is expected. Indeed, change is mandatory. We ought to be aware of when we are not pushing ourselves to change, to adapt and grow, to look at the world through different lenses and in different ways.

In the early months of this school year, I was texting with some former colleagues about rituals around the first days of class. In one of my former lives, I was partially responsible for planning and executing new teacher orientation, something I worked on for almost 10 years. By the end of those years, I was pretty comfortable with what we were doing and innovation was not what I was seeking.

It should have been.

As leaders in schools, we must be aware of when we have settled into a comfort zone, and there are many into which we can sink. And stay.

Perhaps we are comfortable with our preferred decision-making style and, more often than not, make our decisions only from that place. Maybe we are pleased with all the support staff we have around us to the point that we do not feel a need to provide them performance reviews any more. It could be that we have developed close rapport with only a small segment of our staff and we have begun not to look beyond them for input or help.

It could be anything.

When we settle in to patterns as leaders, when we allow ourselves to become too comfortable with who we are and what we are doing, we run the risk of stagnation.

Our schools are places where change is expected. Indeed, change is mandatory. We ought to be aware of when we are not pushing ourselves to change, to adapt and grow, to look at the world through different lenses and in different ways.

There is an entire offshoot of leadership study and organizational structure that deals with discomfort, with creating disequilibrium, with embracing the results of being put of our normal stride.

There is much to be gained by pushing ourselves to be new and different, to alter our approach, to grow in our roles.

First, however, we have to be aware of when we are in comfort zones.

Then we have to get out of them.

EduQuote of the Week: October 16 – 22, 2017

Teen Read Week

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

– Benjamin Franklin

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Teach & Serve III, No. 10 – Proceed with Caution

Teach & Serve III, No. 10

Proceed with Caution

October 11, 2017

While I may believe I never treated a student in the manner this student described, she/he felt treated negatively by me, felt I did not care, felt I was a negative force and a bad teacher.

This is a hard one.

I was in high school classrooms for almost 25 years before leaving that work for my current position. I choose the word “classrooms” intentionally as I made certain, even as I transitioned from full time teacher to full time administrator, that I was assigned at least one two semester class every year I worked in secondary education. I felt that was important in terms of keeping me grounded in the real work of the school which is, obviously, working with students.

In those almost 25 years, I am sure I worked with thousands of students. I live in a kind of ambient anxiety about running into them now because I am terrible about remembering them names which is unfortunate. I wish I could remember all the kids I had in class with me, but I simply do not have that kind of bandwidth. Many I know do and I am so impressed by them.

When I consider those years, I have only fond memories of students in my classes, fond memories of all the students whether they worked hard or not, participated well or not, got in trouble or not. I look back on that mass of kids with a smile.

I have always assumed that students who sat in the desks in my classrooms had much the same thoughts about me, if not a pleasant feeling about being in my room, then, at least, an idea that we were in something together, that I respected them and that we shared some good times. It has never occurred to me that some of those students felt as though I did not care about them, did not know them and did not value them.

No. I should write it had never occurred to me, not until last spring.

Facebook is a wonderful tool and I have really enjoyed connecting with people from my past, including students. I made it policy not to “friend” them when they were still in school, but, if they requested after graduation and I remembered who they were (because looking at their pictures always helped!), I accepted. I have had many a conversation through FB with former students and it has been a pleasure to follow their lives in this pretty limited fashion.

As it turns out, some of my former students have even read these blogs on education that I write weekly. I discovered this by seeing the infrequent “likes” they might click after a post and I found out that some are really reading these things when I received a message from a student.

The content of the message was not what I expected. Essentially, the student felt that I bullied her/him in school, that I did not care about her/him, that I made a point of sticking it to her/him. When this student was considering transferring from the school, she/he remembers many teachers trying to change his/her mind. The student is certain I did not recall her/his name.

It was a long message and a powerful one.

I remembered the student quite well. That is the reason I had accepted her/his friend request. This is a student that I would recognize if we ran into each other. This is a student of whom I had warm and fond memories.

This student did not feel the same. Situations I remembered one way, this student recalled in an almost polar opposite fashion. And, to be clear, the student’s perception is reality. While I may believe I never treated a student in the manner this student described, she/he felt treated negatively by me, felt I did not care, felt I was a negative force and a bad teacher.

There is not a thing I can do to go back and change what I did to make this student feel this way, though I very much wish there were.

The benefit of this exchange between us was for me to be more reflective looking back, for me to consider things from my former students’ perspectives and for me to take myself down from the pedestal I have placed myself upon.

The good leaders and teachers I know welcome challenging input, they solicit ways to improve, they listen to those they have hurt and they invite pointed critiques.

Then they grow.

I have grown from reading these comments. Looking forward, I am more aware of how my actions and interactions influence others. Looking back, I am more aware of how my nostalgia colors my view of the past.

These are good things. They are hard things, but good.

Leaders must be cautious when they (as I often do in these posts) pat themselves on the back. Leaders must remember that their actions are interpreted, minute-by-minute, by those with whom they journey. Leaders should never get too comfortable thinking they have it all figured out.

Leaders must proceed with caution, for they are responsible for the perceptions they create.

EduQuote of the Week: October 9 – 15, 2017

Newspaper Week

A newspaper is a public trust, and we will suffer as a society without them.

– Michael Moore

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