Leading With a Future Focus | Steve Barkley

Leading With a Future Focus

In a video for AASA, (The School Superintendents Association) Ray McNulty describes the difference between being forward focused and being future focused. He describes that often schools work with a forward focus; looking at how to improve and be a little better next year than they were last year. When being futured focused, we identify what we believe is needed further out and consider how we would go about preparing for that future.

I have approached this concept asking leadership groups to explore where they want to seek improvement and where they believe change is needed. What can we do better (improve) that will benefit our students? Where would investing in improvement be insufficient? In other words, even though we could get better, it would not be creating what we believe is needed. Here, change is required.

Magnifying Glass with the word Future on white background.

I connected this thinking as I read about leadership for creating “islands of sanity” in Margaret Wheatley’s book, Who Do We Choose To Be? She describes the need for and satisfaction from using our leadership to invest in the people around us. “So much is possible when we choose how to best step forward as leaders for this time.”

Wheatley poses some areas for leadership exploration to identify where your organization is functioning and where you want it to be. She recommends considering trends rather that snapshots. What direction are you moving in? What changes are occurring? I have selected a few that I thought especially appropriate for school leadership examination.

Quality of Relationships

A Few Years Ago————————Now———————-Future

How are people relating to each other? Has trust increased or decreased? Are people more or less self-protective? To what extent are folks willing to go the extra mile for each other.

I think this is a great starting point for leadership team conversations. How good of a read do we as leaders have concerning a culture of trust? What are the relationships we wish to create among the school staff? With students? With parents and the greater school community? What current practices can we improve to strengthen trust? What practices need to be stopped, changed, or started to strengthen trust?

How do your current teacher appraisal and professional growth plan processes impact teacher to teacher and teacher to administrator relationships?

Fear vs Love

Fear———————————————————————— Love

Where on the continuum are the emotions that you are observing? Are there situations where reactions of fear or love are most likely to emerge? Are leaders using fear to motivate actions?

A starting point can be considering our word choices. This emerged in a podcast conversation I had with Crystal Frommert on focusing students on learning vs grades.

Crystal: I think words are important. That’s why I started adjusting language; because it starts with me and the change starts with how I approach grade outlook in my class. I have stopped using the word grades as often as I used to. This is my 23rd year of teaching and way back in the day, I was right in that mindset of you earned an A or A+ and this is going to count for a grade. My language was promoting this grade obsession. I’ve made a huge effort in my classroom to change my language with kids and parents. I focus on words like performance or how did you do on this concept? And avoid the whole grade conversation completely as best I can. When I send an email to parents, or I’m talking to parents in a conference, I do focus on what the child is learning, what their progress is like and I try to avoid the whole number and letter grade conversation completely.

Steve: I’m smiling as I’m listening to you because I know that waving the grade as the carrot or stick, the threat or the encouragement, can be so easy when I’m frustrated; I need to be conscious of my language.

Your leadership team might consider coaching each other around the language of love vs fear in your announcements, requests, emails, and directives to staff. What does the language around teacher appraisal and professional growth plans communicate?

time to thinkQuality of Thinking

What values appear when you are dealing with crisis? Do you consider the future? Is long-term thinking happening in conversations, decision-making, and planning? How difficult is it to find time to think for yourself and others?

Whenever the time question emerges related to things that are important in classrooms and schools, I switch the words from find to make. When you struggle to find time, it is generally a signal to make time. When teachers want to engage in knowing students in order to build relationships, they design strategies to create the time for those activities. When leaders want to have teachers engaged in discussions about the longer-term future rather than just planning for next week, they create opportunities.

What purposeful steps are you building into your leadership to strengthen a future focus…….leadership for an “island of sanity.”

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2 Responses to “ Leading With a Future Focus ”

  1. Mandy Collins Says:

    Always thought provoking. In a recent pd, we did a walk and talk with some of these sentence stems. Ending in a worry wall protocol. It was interesting to me how many worries were focused in what is coming towards them (teachers) next year-the future. So many things are changing, they don’t know what to invest their time in now. I guess the teacher leadership move (I am a third grade teacher and leader) is to ask the admin for clarification, but how do I move the conversation back to the constant variable- our students while still honoring their concerns?

  2. Steve Barkley Says:

    Mandy– I’d love to hear more about the worry wall protocol. “What teachers should invest their time in?” is a question that I think is an ongoing conversation in PLCs with admin support. Decisions from the administration limits teacher agency that is critical in dealing with change.

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