In this week’s episode, Steve identifies some specific leadership actions to purposefully implement as we focus on maximizing learning for students under conditions that are new and uncertain.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:14 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning, and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:42 Leading during uncertainty. I had an email exchange with Ben Weinberg, the headmaster of the American school of Madrid, who has some new team members joining his leadership team. I wrote to Ben suggesting that I could only imagine the hard work of bringing a new team together at a time when it’s difficult to have anything that isn’t being replanned from day to day or even within the same day. Ben sent back this note in response: “Thanks, Steve. I thought about that walking home the other day, how it’s all new and we can’t assume anything from system to procedures to structures to practice. We really have to go back to purpose and begin again to define the what and the how. It’s sometimes exhilarating frequently exhausting, and it makes us live the qualities of inquiry and collaboration.” Later that day, I recalled Ben’s words as I found an article titled, “In Times of Uncertainty, These Are The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Leaders.” The article by Anita Sands is linked in the lead-in to this podcast. Sands identified these as the seven key habits: One, balance realism and optimism. Two, communicate often and authentically. Three, focus on purpose and culture. Four, nourish yourself. Five, evaluate competitive positioning. Six, get and stay curious. And seven, pause and celebrate success. Sands sets the stage with a quote from Robin Sharma.
Steve: 03:01 “Anyone can lead when the plan is working the best leaders lead. When the plan falls apart, the goal for leaders that send suggest is this. How can we move past nearly enduring it all to functioning effectively and even thriving? That thinking really strikes me as the issue that leadership teams in schools need to be exploring. From March to June, for many of us, it was based on surviving. As this 2021 school year begins, we really need to learn any merge from the quarantine with improved and transformed educational goals and processes. Here’s some of the leadership thoughts that emerged for me as I pondered Ben’s words along with Sands’ article. My first thoughts are found around the words, realism, optimism, and new, Sands calls for leaders to balance reality and hope. She says that people want the leader to have a grip on the reality and a commitment to confronting it.
Steve: 04:32 She uses the term “pragmatic optimism” is necessary to encourage problem solving and imagining a better future. Important words, a better future. Ben’s words seem to me to communicate that realism. He said, “it’s all new and we can’t assume anything from system to procedure to structure to practice.” Those words also communicate authenticity. There’s a transparency in sharing with people that there are things that we do not know and a belief of optimism that we will work through them when they happen. I’m aware of one school district that has started this year with face to face classes Monday through Thursday and virtual learning occurring on Friday. When I ask about the decision, I was informed that they wanted teachers and students to continue building their virtual teaching and learning skills in case another wave of the pandemic required quarantining. While I’m certain that there are people who disagree with that decision, the message is realistic and authentic.
Steve: 06:00 The second set of my thoughts are around the terms, communicating purpose and culture, why and how. Sands stresses that communication must extend beyond transmitting information and needs to include empathy, meaning making and direction giving. She adds that this is likely to be a time when staff are second guessing and need to be reminded of the organization’s why. Ben reinforced that we need to go back to purpose and begin again to define what and how. Many school leaders today are using a social-emotional element to help focus on the important why. It’s critical that the staff recall the way their social emotional needs of their students drive much of their work, especially at the start of this school year. Staffs can increase their capacity for meeting students’ social-emotional needs becoming a stronger organization than they were pre-pandemic. A third component that I’ll explore is around the role of curiosity, inquiry and humility.
Steve: 07:40 Ben described the need for inquiry and collaboration within our culture. Sands stated, “the ability to know what to do when you don’t know what to do is only possible through curiosity, the prerequisite to which is humility. Effective leaders have both.” This requires having the courage to change. You can only evolve if you’re willing to move on from yesterday. All innovation is an essence, some form of change, and there is no change without changing ourselves. Sands reinforced that evolution of any organization is largely dictated by its ability to renew its leadership, improve its culture and reinvent itself. So courage has always needed to break past molds. And for learning from mistakes, failure is always a better teacher than success. Humility is an important element of courage. We really need to be asking, am I seeking information to better understand rather than seeking information to defend the past decision that I made?
Steve: 09:20 When we discover that we’re wrong, are we able to identify, recognize, and maybe even celebrate our increased knowledge and understanding? And the last area that I’ll explore is the area of celebration. Ben mentioned that this work can be exhilarating and exhausting. I identify those terms as being common to a quality learning experience. Learning is hard work and hard work can feel good. It can be like the feeling of satisfaction following a physical workout. To reenergize, we need to frequently pause, reflect, modify, and celebrate. Leaders need to purposely plan to make the time for these opportunities. Sands presents this well. She says, “during ongoing times of challenge, it’s essential for leaders to refortify and reinforce people’s self efficacy by highlighting all of the obstacles they’ve overcome, the successes they’ve achieved and the capabilities that they’ve displayed.” For many schools, this may mean identifying the accomplishments achieved this past spring, when the staffs were thrown into virtual learning environment with little or no preparation.
Steve: 10:51 Some staffs had ended up leaving school on Friday and not knowing that they wouldn’t be back on Monday. Preparing for students to be back in a learning mode this fall, whether it’s vertical in a hybrid or in classrooms with totally new procedures in place, took Herculean efforts on many over the summer. How have you recognized the team’s efforts and accomplishments to get to where you are today? How are you recognizing the efforts and accomplishments of students and parents in continuing a learning focus often, under less than ideal circumstances. For years, I trained teachers to find ways to celebrate perseverance with their students. I encourage them to look for times when students persevered and succeeded and recognize it. Celebrating the perseverance to solving the problem rather than the solution to the problem. I’ve always described the celebration of perseverance as a benefit of a coaching program. Celebrating with a teacher who has persevered with repeated strategies and achieved student mastery builds the teacher’s perseverance. It builds the teacher’s tendency to persevere with the next struggling learner. As leaders today, celebrating and building continuous staff perseverance creates a mindset for moving ahead. Moving from a focus of surviving, to focus of thriving.
Steve: 12:59 I celebrate your perseverance. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 13:06 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com