April 18, 2019

“Come, my friends,

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.”

-Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The task which we have undertaken as school leaders is to create better worlds for our Learners and communities. We cannot shy away from this simple fact. To shy away from the duty we hold to future generations is not an option. Our obligation does not lie within an amorphous group of anonymous people. Rather our obligation is to make life better for those that we see every day in our schools. Not taxpayers. Not adults. Not politicians. Kids…

Management in Schools

This blog post is an attempt to bring down these lofty ideas of duty and obligation to the everyday experiences of school leaders. The topic is relevant to those of us engaged in education because it is so easy to get distracted by managerial tasks. The end result of a management focus is that we find ourselves reacting to situations rather than influencing situations. For example, when in a reactive, management mindset, a high school principal will react to an increase in discipline referrals to the office by creating more rules and regulations. Conversely, if the same principle is in a proactive mindset, they might convene a group of Learners, teachers, parents and community members to find the root cause for the increase in discipline issues and develop solutions based on what they learn together.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the arc of history bends toward justice, which I believe to be true. However, the arc only bends when influenced by action. The same is true for education. The arc of history will bend toward better education opportunities for Learners, but only if there is a concerted effort to influence the direction of the arc. School managers (when they are in a reactive mode) create rules and regulations on top of rules and regulations that are already in place. A feedback loop of reactive behaviors create a structure where the rules become more important than the Learner—regulations more important than the learning— the system more important than people. Only when a school leader is cognizant that they are negatively reacting and not positively influencing will the arc of history bend toward learning.

Better Managers?

As I thought about the management versus leadership conundrum, I read an article from the Harvard Business Review from February 2002 titled “Beware the Busy Manager”. The authors discovered in their research that managers (and they do not differentiate between managers and leaders) who are effective in leading their organization exhibit two traits: focus and energy. It is worthwhile to share the author’s definitions of these two terms.

Focus: Think of focus as concentrated attention—the ability to zero in on a goal and see the task through to completion. Focused managers aren’t in reactive mode; they choose not to respond immediately to every issue that comes their way or get sidetracked from their goals by distractions like e-mail, meetings, setbacks, and unforeseen demands.

Energy: Think of the second characteristic—energy—as the vigor that is fueled by intense personal commitment.

What is Your Why?

I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of a leader having a solid sense of why they are engaged in the work they do. Once you understand your personal “why”, the energy to get things done becomes a renewable resource. For me, I struggle the most with focus. Being blindsided by things you did not anticipate every day can quickly make you reactive and cynical that you can control your workflow. The following matrix (based on the authors work from www.creativityatwork.com) is helpful as a reflection tool to visualize how these two traits work for (or against) you.

The following questions to Ask Yourself

· What quadrant do you want to spend the most of your time as a school leader?

· Why do you want to be in that quadrant and not the others? Go ahead, actually answer this question…write a paragraph about the benefits of your quadrant. How will “living” in that quadrant make your organization a better place? How will it help bend the arc of history?

· List the specific actions that prevent you from being in that quadrant. Now list ways in which you can do something different so those actions are not a barrier.

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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