The more you give the more you receive….
I have heard it said many times, but have rarely seen it in practice in public schools and school districts. In my work with educational leaders, I meet many school and district level leaders who are tasked with the difficult job of improving schools and school systems that are under-performing. Under these circumstances, timelines are tight and it is difficult for a leader to be patient in order to spend the time and energy necessary to build the relationships necessary to sustain long-term positive improvements.
Today, I share with you one example of a superintendent who exemplifies the concept of sharing leadership and building a collaborative culture within his school district. While an exceptional leader, this man is also very humble, and therefore does not want to be featured by name in this blog. His story, however, is worth sharing:
What I can tell you about this leader is that he is a superintendent of a mid-sized district in the United States and that he does not fit the mold of most superintendents. The power of what this superintendent does lies in what is often unspoken. He is visible, approachable, engaging, and can lead a school board meeting effectively one day and blend into a staff development meeting as a participant the next.
My first-hand account of this superintendent’s leadership follows: I began working with his school district over a year ago as a consultant training principals and school-level leaders to use the Power Walkthrough software as a tool for monitoring instructional strategies. This training consists of one day of rigorous direct instruction and a second day of application of the learning by conducting walkthroughs in actual classrooms and debriefing each walkthrough. I didn’t realize the superintendent was even in my training as a participant until the second day when one of the principals told me. The entire time, this man, who is the chief executive for an entire school system was so unassuming and truly was engaged the entire time of my presentation as a learner, that I never would have guessed he was the superintendent. The school level leaders in the training were also very accustomed to having their boss work side-by-side with them. I was amazed to see the level of importance placed on staff development and professional learning being modeled by this superintendent.
The experience became even richer on the second day of Power Walkthrough training when we began doing classroom walkthroughs in an elementary school. Again, the superintendent was with the principals working side-by-side to learn more about instructional strategies. When I asked others in the group to facilitate conversations about instruction, it was obvious again that we were among equals. This superintendent could lead discussions, participate in them, and even make mistakes while learning with total support and acceptance from those who work for him. What made this experience even more amazing was watching how comfortable the superintendent was visiting classrooms and schools. He knew the teachers and they knew him on a first-name basis – and even more amazing to me was the fact that he also knew the students and they knew him.
At the conclusion of the two-day training, I had the opportunity to talk with this amazing district leader and I had to ask him how he was able to pull it all off…. How could a superintendent fill so many different roles and still be respected as the leader of a school district? He said it was really fairly simple, in his humble way of speaking. He told me that by sharing leadership you will become a stronger leader and that we should always approach problems as opportunities to learn. When you build a system-wide culture of learning and leading, everyone in that system is responsible and accountable for success. You can only do this by thinking about “we” instead of “me”.