October 12, 2021

When our kids were young, we took them to the Outer Banks In North Carolina for beach vacations. I can still remember Anna as a 1-year-old rolling around in the sand looking like a sugar cookie! We rented a house on the beach that had a sand dune between the house and the ocean. Since we rented the same place for a few years, I was always amazed how much the sand dune would change from year to year. The dune didn’t disappear or change drastically, but there was always a noticeable change.

There are three leadership lessons we can learn from sand dunes.

1. Expectations: A sand dune is a lot like the leadership reality learner-centered leaders face today. You see, a sand dune is constantly shifting and changing according to the outside environment. A healthy sand dune is in constant flux. I know our lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic. However, things are always changing and we have to accept this simple fact. The pandemic has made change more frequent and volatile, but it is still only change. To think things are always going to be the same is not realistic.

By adopting the mindset that change is always occurring, you will be ready to adapt to the changes that occur.

2. Perspective: Because a sand dune is always buffeted by wind, seas, and storms, if you take a picture of the sand dune, that picture only captures the sand dune at that specific time and place. It will literally change within minutes.

We in leadership positions take snapshots of our environment all of the time and then proceed to make a false assumption. We assume the snapshot reflects the way things will always be and then make plans based on that assumption. By the time you implement a strategy based on the “snapshot” you took, the reality on the ground will be different. The important question is this: how well did you design your solution to reflect a changing environment?

By adopting a perspective of constant change, a learner-centered leader creates solutions that are nimble and adaptable to the current reality.

3. Goal setting: Regardless of the constant shifting of the sand dune, when you rent the house on the beach you have one goal: to spend time on the beach listening to the waves. Even if the sand dune has changed slightly from year to year, you still see the end goal when you walk out onto the porch of the house…the ocean. The goal does not change.

Learner-centered leaders are intimately aware of their purpose, mission, and non-negotiable goals for our careers. No matter how many changes occur in our environment, we are grounded in what we want to accomplish for our learners, school, and ourselves. Our journey to our purpose will never be a straight line. 

By creating a personal leadership statement with our purpose, mission, and non-negotiable goals, learner-centered leaders navigate changes in our environment and keep our focus on the learners.

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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