A week home means catching up with friends and family. It gives my life balance; allowing me to regroup, reenergize and be ready to hit the road again to work in my schools. It also means that I have time to pay more attention to the world around me and to really notice the important messages that are part of my life. As I sat down to write this week’s blog, three experiences that caused me to pause and consider my own actions were in my thoughts.
As a school improvement coach, my days involve problem-solving and working with educators and leaders to learn together and determine next steps as we seek opportunities for student success. There is no “cookie cutter” or “one-size-fits- all” approach and more times than not, some of the heavy lifting that has to be done involves human relationship skills. Sometimes, my work requires virtual meetings or telephone calls between my visits and one day this week, I spent almost all of the day on the phone in conversation with school leaders and other consultants as we worked together to provide ongoing support. It was a day that caused me to reflect on the advice that I had given, the challenging work that was ahead for my school leaders and the energy and time that I wanted to ensure that I had for each and every one of them. Honestly, it was time for me to dig deep to remain positive and forward thinking. It seemed, just when it was needed, I became aware of three messages that provided synergy and renewal…
A great friend of mine is a leader but in a very different field than school improvement. Every time I have the opportunity to talk to him about our roles, I am reminded of the commonality that exists for leaders; one being that interpersonal and communication skills must become highly effective if we are going to lead others. This week, he shared with me, the post, The Four Agreements, from The Way of Meditation. We see many inspirational quotes on-line everyday and for me, they might cause pause or, other times, it is hard to take them all in. This one stuck with me. I walked away thinking about it for a long time. Here is why.
In the school improvement world, change only happens when there is a clear understanding of the why and what of the work; when leaders articulate purpose and take the time to build common understanding. We call this the foundation of great change in schools. And this post exactly describes many of the wonders of my school leaders. They wonder why others are not understanding their messages, why things are not changing and why they often react to the push back or negativity that occurs through the change process by taking things personally. And, sometimes we falsely assume that others understand what our vision is. Taking a few minutes, to read The Four Agreements reconfirmed for me how critical our interpersonal skills are in all we lead. I especially loved two statements – “use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love” and “find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want”.
As the outsider going in to a school or district, it is often easier for me to see how mixed messages or unclear directions are causing issue. As the leader in the middle of the work on a daily basis, this clarity can come through self-reflection and authentically listening to yourself and others. Are you using the power of your words in the direction of truth? Are you courageously asking questions for clarity? Are you communicating with others as clear as you can?
The second message that stopped me in my tracks this week was from Canada’s Nobel Prize winner, Donna Strickland. Ms. Strickland was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (sharing it with an American scientist and another from France for their work in laser physics). She is the first woman in 55 years to be awarded a Nobel Prize and only the third in Physics. During a fun interview for television, she described what it was like to receive the call and then made this simple statement about her work ethic, “The world works best when we all do what we’re good at.” She worked at laser physics (resulting in laser eye surgery and other outcomes) because that was “what she was good at”.
In schools, every day, we are building collaborative teams and shared leadership models. All of this work depends on every single one of us contributing from a position of expertise, in other words, what we are good at. When we all share our talents with others who knows what can happen. Maybe a Nobel Prize? Or, in our world, even better, achieving our school improvement goals?
Lastly, I want to close this week’s blog with one more lesson learned; messages that resonated with me from Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. In her powerful speech to the United Nations on September 27, she made several points that reflected her values and her country’s values and beliefs. Despite the context being different, four of her statements truly reminded me of what we focus on when improving schools. Ms. Ardern talked of critical behaviors for New Zealanders (past, present and future) and what we all should pay attention to. She said that 1) “we (New Zealanders) didn’t just observe (international) events, we challenged them”, 2) we, (New Zealanders) examine “how did we get here and how do we get out” 3) “we (New Zealanders) acknowledge the problems we have and we can seek to fix them.” and lastly, 4) “our action ( all of us, globally) in the way of this (environmental) challenge remains optional, but the impact of inaction does not.”
I will close and challenge you to reflect on her four points. Using her message and putting in the context of continuous school improvement, are you doing all you can to challenge what must be challenged in your school or district? Is there an honest conversation to be had about how we got here and what we have to do to change? Are you seeking opportunities to address problems? And, lastly, is taking action an option?
Be inspired this week to work at what you are good at, use the power of your words to impact others positively and know that change requires action, not inaction. I look forward to being with you next Saturday.