I am at the end of a three-week trip, and I ended it with an excellent day with an energetic and eager group of educators. Their willingness to push their learning was humbling and inspiring, and it was such an honor to work with them.
As I talked to the administrators throughout the day, I could see that they not only had an inspiring vision for where education could go, but they also provided support to their teachers in their endeavors of serving students in the classroom. Although they have work to do (all great districts do AND acknowledge that themselves), they were on a great path.
One moment stuck out to me though.
After my morning keynote, my room was full of participants, and seating was limited, so educators chose to stay and sit on the floor. I had invited them in and encouraged them to grab any spot they could, but then I noticed the superintendent leaving the room and bringing in extra chairs for the teachers. He was doing everything he could to support them and make sure they had a spot in the session. It was beautiful to watch, and you could see this focus on servant leadership was part of the eagerness of the teachers in the district. I am sure that not everything is as perfect as I paint it right now, but it was just an awesome day with inspired learning.
But not all of my days are like that. And when they aren’t, it often is a reflection of what the administrators do, their vision, and how they support their staff in their development. They can work within the constraints of what they have to do, and do what needs to be done. They are not only called “leaders,” but they actually “lead.”
The answer to all questions in education keeps pointing me back to one thing; leadership.
Now right away, a teacher may see this and think that I am saying that they are not as crucial in the work that is done every day in the classrooms. In fact, I believe that the very opposite is true. The work of the teacher in the classrooms is the most significant thing needed to serve students (obviously). But is their (teachers) ability limited because of the culture of the school? The superfluous “extras” that seem to bombard teachers and limit their time to do what is essential, and the lack of meaningful professional learning.
I have seen far too many administrators blame their teachers for the lack of moving forward. Similar to a teacher blaming a student for not getting good grades, if you try the same approach and continuously get poor results, perhaps it is not the person that you are serving that is the issue. Of course, I believe that there are always elements of personal responsibility in our work and learning that are important, but how one is supported makes a significant difference through the process.
This is not about any one person passing responsibility on to someone else, but understanding how important the role of an administrator is in ensuring that students, teachers, and all staff are successful. Many educators have a tremendous impact not only on their classrooms but their schools in spite of weak leadership. Imagine how much more they could do though if they had great administrators supporting them? Many educators do not realize this until they work with a great leader, or sometimes, unfortunately, they realize when they receive the opposite.
If you are in a leadership position and things don’t seem to be working, ask first what you can do differently and better before pointing fingers at others. I have never seen a great school or district that has sustained greatness with weak leadership.
I love this quote that I first heard from Eric Thomas:
We can all do better, but when in positions of leadership, legacy is created by what the people you serve do. Keep finding a way.