Looking From the Inside Out and the Outside In
My professional life has given me many gifts. With 20+ years within the system of public education—serving as a teacher, principal and central office leader responsible for developing principals—this most recent phase of my working life—no longer inside the system, but working upon and influencing the system—has provided me with a unique perspective.
My current professional life—teaching graduate classes, presenting, facilitating, writing and coaching—has afforded me the opportunity to go deep with research, reading and thinking about organizations and transformation in ways I could not as a practitioner.
Lesson One: Teaching Through Connections
I began my career in education as a high school E.S.L. (English as a Second Language) teacher. My students were Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian refugees who had come to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. In addition to an introduction to some of the world’s most delicious cuisine, I came to deeply understand during these first years of teaching the power of connection among teachers, students and families to promote authentic engagement with school.
Lesson Two: Power of Collaboration
There were many gifts from my time in the principalship. One important one was seeing the extraordinary power of collaborative teams. We knew that having teachers collaborate about things that matter—teaching and learning—in ways that were effective—well-run meetings and innovative processes and protocols to get everyone’s best thinking—was our ticket to success. Our work to ensure that we lived into both of those elements of a community of practice—the what and the how—ultimately resulted in a visit to our campus by Richard and Rebecca DuFour, the gurus at that time of professional learning communities. They named us a model PLC site, a genuinely deep accomplishment for our campus.
Lesson Three: The Soft Stuff Is the Hard Stuff
I moved from the principalship to become the founding director of the Dallas Leadership Academy. Our charge was to identify aspiring principals within the district who could, given the right experience and development, be ready to step into the principalship in one year. Senior district leaders had researched effective principal preparation programs across the country and instituted a partnership with the New York City Leadership Academy (NYCLA), a principal prep program that truly did what it was meant to do. So, first gift of understanding—when you need to learn something, learn from the best. What the NYCLA was doing around principal preparation was very different and very innovative: they were developing transformational leaders.
All of the “soft” skills that rely on well-developed emotional intelligence— giving and receiving feedback, engaging in difficult conversations effectively, working well with others, showing up in authentic ways, motivating others, understanding oneself—are essential to doing human work well and traditional training programs neglect these. The best professional learning for adults (which absolutely mirrors great learning for young people) invites them to interact, to reflect, to practice and to receive feedback. Great learning engages people emotionally, intellectually, physically, interpersonally and intrapersonally.
Relationships matter. Connections carry us far. Teams, communities of practice, students and parents: these are vital. The work is too important and too complex to do alone.
Learning matters. For those involved in education it is absolutely essential to be a committed and continuous learner. Learning starts with self and carries outward. The best learning is transformational and calls forth application and adaptation.
Leadership matters. Effective leaders build relationships, form teams and cultivate community. Effective leaders are passionate and relentless learners. Effective leaders have the EQ—self-awareness and self-management, social awareness and relationship management—to do the authentically challenging work of leadership.
Tony Wagner says that, “Change leaders must sharpen our vision outward, seeing more deeply into the organizations we are trying to improve. We also need to sharpen our vision inward, seeing more deeply into ourselves, and the ways we must change, as well.” (Change Leadership)
Transformational leaders see from the inside out and from the outside in.