Tag Archives: leading

What Counts?

This year, I have been lucky enough to work with a talented group of educators who have helped me process, plan, deliberate, challenge, and fail. That last one is of course what I’m holding right now as I push myself up off the floor.

Failing is what we say we want to be open to, and yet when you are in it, you can’t help but think “I don’t want to do this again. Thanks, but no.” It is how you hold, describe and live inside “the fail” that allows you to learn from it. So here goes…

Learning how to be a leader has allowed me to continually modify what I think leadership should look like. There are times when the image I see in my mind is that of a ship’s captain, at the bow, telescope out, checking the horizon for storms, pirates, or land.

While that leader is brave and secure, in control and courageous, he or she is also the only one with the looking glass, the only one with vision and sight.

That type of leadership is not only lonely, it is probably highly ineffective. Why? Because as the sole person responsible for deciding the path, that leader then must tell people what to do and how to do it rather than utilize the collaborative energy and strength of the team “mates” around her. There is no ownership for the others on board, and there is no shared sense of purpose with or for the leader.

Luckily, I’ve had a recent and very different experience. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a team of people who are smart yet open, passionate yet cautious and always ready to lean-in to work collaboratively on a task.

As a group, we have wrestled with big questions around who we are as a school and how we can best serve the children in our care. Our backgrounds are different; two of us are directly from the US, while the others have taught internationally for years. We have different views on what should be, but a collective idea that schools are here to serve the needs of the children within them.

So how did we fail exactly?

The team failed in execution, not in the process. The work we embarked on required a system for discussion, analysis, and thoughtful planning. On that journey, minds were made up; then minds were changed. The individuals in the group were willing to stretch because the group itself was working toward a common collaborative purpose: “How can we serve the children in our care?” Together we made some difficult recommendations. Recommendations we felt best for those children.

However, those recommendations were not heeded and a very different path was taken. Which left the team questioning our purpose, our goals, and even, our own beliefs. (Collaboratively and individually.)

The toughest part of my leadership journey has been these severe right turns. When what we had been working on is suddenly and inexplicitly changed. Often, without developing the understanding of those that have been working through or living the experience every day.

However, knowing that this failure is a result of the outcome and not in the collaborative process itself is what encourages me to continue. To move forward, this team needs to go back to and reaffirm the good, human work they presented. The stage is set up for this team to try again.

As I leave this school and job for a new one next year, it is the experience with this particular team that I will take with me and grow from. I’ve learned that while you can go all-in, the outcome still might flop. However, it isn’t the failure that counts. What counts, is showing up and trying to do what’s right, while working to really understand the people next to you.

Everyday. Again and again.

Becoming a Teaching Principal

One of the best things about teaching at schools overseas is the opportunity to connect with consultants when they are in the region. Whether at conferences, or weekend workshops, we have many of the best-known thinkers in the area of education coming to and near our schools to help us all improve. Once abroad, those super-stars of the education world are just like us, navigating the visa line in Muscat, or trying to bargain in Nepal. It is a unique pleasure to have the chance to be with a guru: on a plane, in a taxi, or even in a classroom at one of our schools.

Last weekend, we hosted Matt Glover, early-childhood writing specialist, author, teacher and leader, at our school. Matt was moving through several schools in the region on his way to a NESA-sponsored weekend workshop in Muscat, Oman. We had one day for our Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers to work with Matt. He presented for a few hours, took our specific school-related questions to heart; then demonstrated some teaching moves in our classrooms, followed up by an afternoon working with teachers. Although I learned a great deal about writing and early-childhood best practices from Matt, (more on that here) what really stuck with me was the fact that he was a former principal who made it a point to teach too.

Eureka! That’s what I want to be.

I know high school and middle school principals- and I’ve heard of a few Heads of School- who teach a class. This allows them to stay connected to the kids and to the teachers through their “on the ground” work. I’ve always been impressed by the added workload and admired the desire to maintain that connection. However, what I’ve not seen is an elementary school principal who consistently teaches. Mainly because it isn’t easy to break the ES day into “classes.” (Nor is it necessarily good for younger children to have multiple leaders in the room, as it can confuse structure and routine.) So, how did Matt Glover do it? How can I be a teaching-principal too?

Well, as a principal of a large (800+) early childhood school in Ohio, Matt spent years teaching in classrooms to improve both his own understanding of how best to reach young writers, as well as how to support and lead his teachers as they took on the work. He knew it would be easier to bring along his whole school if he was a leader who was also trying to do the work he was asking his colleagues to embrace. Matt wasn’t acting as the teacher of an isolated class of children; he was the teacher of the whole school. He maintained his own learning stance, moving through the “how can we do this better” phase right alongside his teachers and the students.

The result is evident when Matt presents. He isn’t the sage on the stage, but rather someone who has built up his own repertoire of skills- over time, and with practice. Practice inside the classroom with real kids, practice doing the instructional work as much as getting it down on paper, and practice analyzing student writing to understand where to go with a particular child as well as the whole student body.

Last week Matt Glover taught me how to be a better writing teacher. He also helped me realize that the best way for me to be a leader is to lead from the work inside the classrooms.

If I can practice like Matt, my leadership might just be meaningful too.