Serving As A Bystander

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”  -Thomas Merton

We live in a society that has become increasingly enamored with activity and doing…down time and recharging our batteries is often seen more as a luxury than a necessity in the current world.  Couple this frantic activity with the mounting stress, accountability and transparency of modern society and we have created a culture that is more harried, rushed, agitated, and weary than ever before.  More often than not, we are both engaged and disengaged simultaneously.  Welcome to the digital world.  And unfortunately, this intensifying need to do more and be more has made us much more self-absorbed as individuals and as a society.

As the imbalances of our current circumstances continue to escalate throughout our personal and professional lives…we sense the rising necessity for increasing our efforts towards the teaching and learning of those social and emotional intelligences so needed across the spectrum of our society.  Social and emotional literacies that need to be infused and internalized, beginning at the leadership level.

Leaders not only need to increase their level of social and emotional intelligence…they need to turn a reflective spotlight on those very imbalances that affect them personally and professionally.  Imbalances that very often affect the very organizations and institutions that they lead.

Refocusing our leadership lens will require a high level of self-reflection administered on a continuum.  Skillful leaders understand and acknowledge the need for acquiring a self-reflective stance towards their personal and organizational effectiveness.  They search out honest and truthful feedback, from within and from those they lead.  They create the culture and environment for those discussions to regularly occur.  Transparency and self-honesty heighten awareness and self-reflection that allow them to tune-in to the candid and authentic reality of the current environment and culture that resides within their organization…

Leading to Daniel Goleman’s 2007 TED talk, “Why Aren’t We All Good Samaritans?” which provides a strong and healthy argument for – self-reflective leaders.

In “Why Aren’t We All Good Samaritans?” Daniel Goleman takes the opportunity to push our consideration for why we aren’t more compassionate?   Why is it when we are provided ample opportunities to help others, that we only sometimes choose to help?

Goleman guides us to a study out of Princeton Theological Seminary that tries to answer those very same questions.  The study revolved around a group of Divinity students that were required to give a practice sermon…half were given the topic of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the other half were provided a variety of random topics.  One by one the students were informed that they would be giving their sermon in the adjacent building.  As each student navigated their way from one building to the next, they had to pass by a man bent over and moaning, clearly in need.

The point of the study was to determine if the students would stop to help?  Or more importantly, whether or not it mattered that they were contemplating the Parable of the Good Samaritan?  And would that have any influence in the matter?

The answer…no.  It did not matter, not at all.

Goleman proceeds to share that the determining factor of whether the student stopped to help or not was based solely on how much of a hurry they thought they were in.  Did they have the feeling that they were late?  Or were they absorbed in what they were going to talk about?  

The key take-away from the study that Goleman communicates to the audience…this is the predicament of our current lives.  We don’t take the time to help because our focus is aimed in the wrong direction.

When we are preoccupied, caught up in our own issues and problems – which so often we are – we don’t notice others.  He describes the spectrum as going from self-absorption, to noticing, to empathy, and then to compassion.  And for this reason, focusing on ourselves and focusing on others is something we need to pay attention to…  

Goleman points out that it is our empathy…our tuning in that separates us.  And when we focus on ourselves, we inevitably turn that part of ourselves off.

The critical points made in Goleman’s TED talk are central to leading in today’s modern society.  Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, or a CEO – when we as leaders become self-absorbed – we turn our natural empathy and compassion monitors off.  Not only do we turn those monitors off, we fail to even take notice.  Notice of those red flags that invoke our sense of empathy and compassion.  Self-absorption seeps away that  ability…and when we fail to notice, we in effect, turn off our ability to incorporate the empathy and compassion that is so necessary for leading in today’s world.

Self-absorption transfers a leader from the center to the periphery of their organization.  Self-absorbed leaders fail to create and facilitate positive and effective organizational environments and culture.  They can’t…they have removed themselves from the process.  Which is unfortunate, since it is one of the most important aspects required of their leadership.

Leading is all about noticing and nuances…about having your finger on the pulse of the very people within your organization.  The very act of leading requires immersing yourself in creating connections and building relationships.  Yet, how can we tend to those very relationships and connections when we are continually caught up and absorbed in our own activity and busyness.

The simple act of noticing – stopping to help the stranger on the road – is often the very act that creates momentum for positive change.  In the environment and the culture.  An act, removed from the self, that creates connection and relationship.

When we notice, when we stop, then so do others.

And when we fail to notice…we limit our ability to engage in and transform the culture and environments of our organizations.  Worst of all, we remove our ability to connect with those we lead in an empathetic and compassionate manner.  Which relegates our leadership to that of a bystander to the very environment and culture that we have been empowered to transform.  Self-absorbed leaders, in effect, become cultural bystanders within their very own organizations.

Recognizing subtleties keeps us from becoming cultural bystanders to our own leadership.

“If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.”

Learning To Fly

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”  -Ray Bradbury

The world of education seems to be standing at a precipice…staring off into an abyss – teetering, hovering – trying to determine its way…not sure which direction it will fall.

Or which path it will take…

While the reins of our past pull desperately to reel us back in…the songs of our technology sirens entice us towards the shores of an unknown future.

Disruption feels imminent…if not already in progress.  Change forces abound.

Change forces that convey an air of anticipation and enthusiasm stand defiantly against those that command a heightened sense of anxiety, alarm, and apprehension of what is to come.  And as we stand at the edge and stare down…

That very future resides within our grasp.  What remains to be determined is who will be the ones to lead it forward…will we do it ourselves or will we allow it to be led for us?  For those who will lead and transform education…a certain amount of risk will be required.  It is inevitable.  It will require a willingness to step off that cliff, into that abyss…into the unknown.

As the clip below illustrates…leading education forward will require us to build the plane at the same time we are trying to fly it.  We have no other option.  It will be a necessity…a necessity for educational leaders if they are to do what is necessary to transform their classrooms, their schools, and their districts.

The world of technology and social media is changing the world around us at breakneck speed.  And for that reason alone, we have no other alternative than to build the plane while it is in the air.  We can no longer wait.  Our ever rapidly evolving and changing world requires it…even demands it.  As do our students.  The challenge of change and the need to evolve lays before each and everyone of us…

We need to learn to fly.  And it begins today.

“I” Before “We”…Except When We Lead (Language Of Leadership)

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.”  -Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Language is a life driver.  Driving the core of each and every person on this earth.  It is as vital to our lives as the air we breath.  Serving as the nucleus of our communication, collaboration, and learning.  It is how we express our feelings, convey our wants, our needs…

Our language can profess a higher motive…or expose an underlying agenda.  It can create motivation…or steal away enthusiasm.  Language can enlist believers in a vision towards a better future…or detractors to even next steps.  Language not only drives our human need to connect and communicate…it drives our ability to lead.

Some wield it to proclaim and assert their authority…while others gain influence simply through the words they speak and share.  Some see the language of communication as a gong they are constantly clanging and hammering, with a be first and loudest approach…while, for others it best served last, after all other voices have been heard and considered.

Language is how we convey meaning – from our innermost thoughts and feelings – to driving the attitude and culture of our families, teams, institutions, organizations, and society as a whole.

Whether straightforward in delivery, or as a story, a parable, or a proverb…how we communicate drives our ability to lead others.

Language and communication can either transform or impair, creating slow decay throughout our organizations.  Clarity or chaos.  Certainty or ambiguity.  The day-to-day discourse of our people expresses the underlying tone and demeanor we create within our organizations.  The alignment and coherence found at all levels of the system can very well be determined by listening to those very same day-to-day conversations.

Providing the necessity and the why of leaders being attuned and aware of their own words and the discourse of the organization…

Poor use and utilization of language can serve as a detriment, often isolating leaders from the collaborative processes and relationships that create unity within their teams, institutions, and organizations.  Leadership cannot serve as an island to itself.  If it is to last…

Leadership remains founded in the practice and process of creating connections and building relationships…for which our language and communication will always serve as a main driver.

When we lose our sense of others, of connection, and relationships – we have lost the true essence and purpose of leadership…serving others.  When words like “I” and “me” overwhelm “us” and “we”…we have a front-row seat to the oncoming shipwreck.  A shipwreck that will leave that leader a stranded castaway…deserted and isolated in their influence, serving as an island to themselves.

It is said that the plural of “I” is said to be…”we”.  Leadership that serves others is constantly about moving from the service of “me” to the service of “us” and from the idea of the singular to the plural.  True, authentic leaders serve in and for the growth of others, rather than in benefit of themselves.  And that service attitude begins with our language, our discourse…which relays our true motives.

Which is why great leaders understand that “I” never goes before “we”…

How Resilient Is Your Leadership?

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”  -Robert Jordan

Challenges.  Crisis.  Adversity.  Setbacks.  Stress.  Pressure.  Pushback.  Mistakes.  Failures.

What leaders are bound to face on a daily basis…

Belief.  Hope.  Vision.  Confidence.  Tenacity.  Purpose.  Trust.  Determination.  Drive.

What leaders must instill in those they lead on a daily basis…

We can often get buried under the weight and responsibility that accompanies leading and leadership.  Oftentimes, a minor miscalculation or a poor decision has served as the undoing of many a leader…from which many never recover.  Which leads to one of the most important leadership traits of all…

Resilience

Resilience is a leadership necessity.  Whether you consider it a growth mindset or having emotional intelligence, resilience serves as a major factor in either equation. Without the capacity for resilience, many a “leader-ship” has been sunk, never to rise again.

A wonderful representation of leadership resilience can be found in the modern day fable of “The Donkey in the Well“, which a portion of is provided below…

“One day a farmer’s donkey fell into a deep well.  The animal cried pitifully for hours as the farmer tried to figure our what to do.  Finally the farmer made a decision: The animal was old, and the well needed to be filled anyway.  It just wasn’t worth trying to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all of his neighbors to come over and help him.  They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.  At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.

Then to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down.  A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well.  He was astonished at what he saw.  With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing.  He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal he would shake it off and take a step up.  Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!”

(portion of the story above taken from beliefnet.com)

As leaders we often have two choices…we can allow the “dirt thrown on our back” to either bury us or serve as opportunities to “shake it off” and create next steps.  Leadership resilience is all about “shaking it off” as stepping stones to propel us forward…using our mistakes and failures as growth experiences to mold and shape us.  And when we demonstrate resilience we cultivate that same trait and attitude across the organization with those we lead.  Which requires us to consider…

How resilient is our leadership?

“Stars may be seen from the bottom of a deep well, when they cannot be discerned from the top of a mountain.  So are many things learned in adversity which the prosperous man dreams not of.”  -Charles Spurgeon

Gratitude

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.  And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Truly great leaders understand that leadership is not a right or an entitlement.  Leadership is a privilege…a privilege to serve others.  A tremendous responsibility and calling that should not be taken lightly.  As Sir William Osler asserts…“We are here to add what we can to, not get what we can from life.”

Yet, we live in an age, where in many ways, servant leadership and service to others is a dying calling.  Altruistic leaders who place the needs of their people and organizations they lead above their own wants and needs are not in abundance.  Misplaced priorities of our modern day society and the state of many of our organizations gives warrant to these assertions.

Which is why real servant leaders are a truly special breed.  They live by a calling beyond and above themselves.  They acknowledge that titles and positions are often fleeting…service to others is their foundation and rock.  Each position has its season and when we hold too tightly to those titles and positions, we often lose our way.

Servant leaders give thanks for their time of leading…for each season.  For it is not about the ranks to which others aspire, but for the lives they change and transform.  They serve with gratitude.  Gratitude and thanksgiving…for the problems they face, they needs they fill, and the lives they touch.

So during this season of Thanksgiving…let us have gratitude for our time and season of leadership and for the lives of those we are privileged to touch and transform.  Let our hearts be filled with gratitude for this honor to serve others.

“There is no more noble occupation in the world than to assist another human being, to help someone succeed.”  -Alan Loy McGinnis

The Imprint We Try To Fill

“We make everything that is uncertain, certain.  Just certain.  The more frayed we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are.”  -Brene Brown

We are built for connection.  Connection, acceptance, relationship.  Dots that we are constantly trying to connect in our lives.  A deep-seated need we all are trying to fill.  We clamor for belonging, even when we put up walls and pretenses that push us away from that very need and want for connection that we desire.  The depths of this need knows no bounds and it affects each one of us in very different and profound ways.

So we spend the precious moments of our time and days in the ongoing search for connection, belonging, and even validation.  An imprint on our very hearts that we so desperately try to fill.

It becomes our driver…

We work frenetically to fill that imprint…a new house, a new car, new knowledge, more knowledge, more prestige, more friends, more likes, more tweets, more, more, more…often feels like the more we try to fill the imprint the deeper its depths.  The bigger the void.

And each of us has a driver in our life…even if we fail to recognize or step up and own it.

Which is why it is so incredibly important for us to open ourselves to being vulnerable.  One of the most difficult and courageous acts that we will offer to those in our lives.  Brene Brown refers to it as “excruciating vulnerability”…being “willing to go there first, when there are no guarantees” and “to let go of who you thought you should be for who you really are.”  

When we give others the green light to be “who they are” rather than “who they think they should be”…we create a connection that is more authentic, more real.  One that removes the need for pretense, for one of acceptance.  Creating a sense of “worthiness” and “belonging”.  Not for what that person brings or provides, but for who they really are.  A deep and authentic connection.

When we create that space for those in our life…we can begin to take those first steps away from the “stuff” that we use to try to fill that imprint on our heart.

Which is why leading is often an act of courage.  Leaders go first…even when it requires “excruciating vulnerability”.

As we take on the days and weeks to come, Brene Brown gives insight to those dots of connection…

“Let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen.  To love with our whole hearts, even though there is no guarantee.  To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror – to be grateful.  Believe that we are enough.  Stop screaming and start listening.  Then we are gentler and kinder to ourselves and those around us.”

(Quotes in bold taken from two TED talks provided by Brene Brown)

What Is Your Lever of Influence?

“Conversations are the work of a leader and the workhorses of an organization.  While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a company, a relationship, or a life – any single conversation can.”  -Susan Scott

The true weight and depth of any leader will be found and measured in their influence.  Without it, a leader and their leadership will often be found to be lacking and hollow.  Leadership influence is not acquired haphazardly, it requires intentional and purposeful thought and action.

Unfortunately, the daily hustle and bustle required for leading can enable us to overlook those very same levers that create and increase our influence.

Simply stated.  We often fail to intentionally utilize one of the best levers we have at our disposal…

The conversation.

Can you think of any other influence lever that engages the adults in our organizations over one thousand times each day, every day?

A better question is, for those thousands of conversations and opportunities for connection, how many of them are intentional and purposeful?  If not many is the answer, then why may be a question worth considering, why is this not a lever that you are utilizing as an influence builder for your leadership?

“We effect change by engaging in robust conversations with ourselves, our colleagues, our customers, our family, the world.  Leadership should effectively be looking at changing the world – one conversation at a time.”

Very seldom are we intentional with our conversations.  Though we know they serve as the spark to ignite the fires of change and innovation in our organizations.  We fan those same fires of change and innovation by intentionally engaging these conversations, whenever and wherever possible, at all levels of the organization, inside and out.

Well-placed conversations provide the impetus to move the vision and goals of the organization forward.  Conversations provide the necessary transparency and understanding around change, they create the environment and atmosphere that allow for change and innovation to grow and expand.  Conversations create clarity preceding the actual steps forward.

“Leaders must have conversations that interrogate reality, provoke learning, tackle tough challenges and enrich relationships.”  “Our very lives succeed or fail gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”

We are not defined by every conversation that we engage in, yet, we could be much more intentional with the conversations that we do engage in.   Conversations that are as much about listening as they are about being heard.  Conversations that allow our leadership to be much more authentic and vulnerable.  Conversations that let people know we are all in.

“Intimacy is required in conversation now – at home and in the workplace.  We must answer the big questions in our organizations.  What are the questions that need posing?  What is real?  What is honest?  What is quality?  What is value?”  

Every conversation has the ability to provide and/or gain clarity for those immersed in the process.  Just as they can lead you towards or away from the goals and vision for the organization.

As author Susan Scott so aptly states, the conversation is not about creating the relationship, it is the relationship.  Conversations not only increase our influence, they increase our relationships.  “Our conversations either enhance our relationships, flatline them, or take them down.”

Consider being more intentional about your conversations if your aim is to increase your influence, your relationships, and the overall trust factor in your organization.  Deep, authentic conversations are the path to the change and innovation necessary to move our organizations forward.  Which causes us to consider…

“What are the conversations you’ve been unable or unwilling to have – with your boss, colleague, employee, spouse, parent, child; or yourself – that, if you were able to have, might change everything?”

What conversations will you have today?

(Quotes in bold are taken from Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.)

A Shift In Expectations

“As educational leaders, we can’t just stop at ‘we believe all students can learn at high levels’…we have to have the same belief and expectations for the adults in the system.”

As educators, we understand that our beliefs and expectations can be foundational to the success of the students in our classrooms.  Beliefs and expectations that will play out daily in the lives of each child in our schools.  And very often it is necessary to consider and reflect upon those very same beliefs and expectations…for they serve a crucial role in the very success of those same children.

As the Dufours and Eaker remind us in Revisiting Professional Learning Communities At Work, those same high expectations are rooted in “the confident belief that all students can attain mastery of the essential learning and that the staff has the capability to help all students achieve that mastery.”  Or as Lezotte states in the same work…“high expectations for success will be judged, not only by the initial staff beliefs and behaviors, but also by the organization’s response when some students do not learn.”

A monumental task in moving your school or district forward with the work of a Professional Learning Community requires leadership to take on the assumptions, expectations, and beliefs that pervade the culture of the system.  For better or for worse.  Whether positive or negative.  A very difficult prospect at best, painful and uncomfortable at its worst.  Yet, very necessary.  Necessary in that creating the culture is a crucial step that leadership must tackle early in the PLC process.

For a school or district to truly develop a shared mission and common vision collectively…they must exhibit the values and/or collective commitments that will allow for that very mission and vision to be lived and carried out.  Both in the expectations and in the behaviors of all members of the learning community, including leadership.

A mission and vision that truly moves the whole of the learning community requires that the beliefs, collective commitments, behaviors, and actions are modeled and lived out by the leadership.  Which requires creating an environment that promotes high levels of learning not only for the students, but for the adults in the building as well.  Very often the idea of learning is focused squarely on the students.  And yet, that very same student learning requires the adults in the system to increase their capacity and ability to invest in their own ongoing learning.  Or in the words of Michael Fullan…“developing the collective ability – the dispositions, knowledge, skills, motivation, and resources – to act together to bring about positive change.”

If creating lifelong learners is an expectation for the students in our classrooms.  Then that same expectation has to be lived out in the lives of the adults in the system.  We must serve as the model.  As the lead learners.

There must be a belief and expectation for learning and improving professional practice for all adults in the building.  It is a leadership imperative.  Creating an environment and culture that promotes learning, at all levels.  As stated in Revisiting Professional Learning Communities At Work, “it is impossible for a school or district to develop the capacity to function as a professional learning community without undergoing profound cultural shifts.  Those who cultivate PLCs must engage in an intentional process to impact the culture.”  And that starts with leadership!

Whether we are infusing Professional Learning Communities, ramping up our Response to Intervention, integrating Project-Based Learning, or learning to utilize a variety technology tools…leadership has to exude a positive belief and expectation that supports the learning of the adults, as well as the students.  If we truly want change to reach the level of the student desk…then leadership must engage and create learning opportunities and expectations for the adults in the system.  Especially if we want to truly transform the culture of the learning community.

Very often leaders don’t believe that the adults in the system can engage around change and new learning.  Yet, according to Andy Hargreaves, “a professional learning community is an ethos that changes every single aspect of a school’s operation.  When a school becomes a professional learning community, everything in the school looks different than it did before.”  Including the adult learning…AND how leadership creates those conditions and leads that learning.

Which, for me, is the inspiring piece to the “flipping” phenomena and movement.  It eventually turned us towards the adults in the system.  Towards our own staff and faculty meetings.  It forced leaders to consider, think, and do different in how they approached this learning space.  From a focus on announcements and mandates to learning and capacity-building.  From surface level meetings to in-depth learning experiences.  To leadership leading the learning.  From a focus on the what, to the how, and the WHY.  Leadership modeling expectations.  Leadership challenging the status quo.  Differentiation of learning wasn’t just for the classroom anymore.

The shift must remain squarely on learning.  Moving us from presenters and conveyors to builders of engaging collaborative structures, for the adults as well as our students.  It must touch everyone in the learning community.  And knowing our WHY serves as the linchpin…for changing behaviors, and ultimately, expectations and beliefs.

Just because we are adults does not mean we lose our love of learning.  If we subscribe to an ethos of creating lifelong learners, then our actions must model our words.  And it often requires a reminder of our WHY…

“True impact isn’t about fame or fortune…it is about touching the lives of others in a truly authentic way.  That is the difference and the difference maker.”

Acknowledge The ‘Curse Of Knowledge’

Very often what we strive to convey and communicate the most can be the hardest to transmit and teach.  The vivid images of a grand vision or innovative ideas or learnings that may be seared upon our own minds…aren’t even casting a shadow on the thoughtscape of those you are trying to reach or persuade.  The beacon of light that shines so clearly in our own mind can be frustratingly Gargantuan in its effort to explain to others.

While we may have an incredible image of what we want to get across to those around us, conveying this image can be the most difficult job of all.  What we see the strongest can the hardest for us to create in the minds of others…but why?

Some would say the great inhibitor to our inability to convey what is in our own heads is the “curse of knowledge.”  A term first coined by Robin Hogarth and later expounded upon by the Heath Brothers in their work…Make it Stick.  According to the Heath Brothers and the dilemma of the “curse of knowledge”;

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.  Our knowledge has cursed us.  And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”

According to the Heath Brothers…“we suffer from enormous information imbalances.”  These “information imbalances” make it difficult to convey what persists so rich and brilliantly in our own minds.  And yet…“you can’t unlearn what you already know.” 

So in our efforts to teach and lead more effectively, it behooves us to look for a myriad of ways to build mental maps and models for the very ideas that we find most important to convey to our listeners.  Tapping into the unexpected and engaging in stories to paint your picture allows your audience to elicit their own images and create their own path to the learning.  And for us to overcome the “curse of knowledge” that may afflict our communications.

The Heath Brothers add…“there are in fact, only two ways to beat the curse of knowledge reliably.  The first is not to learn anything.  The second is to take your ideas and transform them.”  Choosing to learn nothing is not an option, so we have to be vigilant in our efforts to “transform” our ideas and vision for those we lead.

Transparency does not assist our leadership if we are the only one that has clarity around what we are trying to convey and communicate.

“And how is clarity to be achieved?  Mainly by taking trouble and by writing to serve people rather than to impress them.”  -F.L. Lucas

Do We Need A “Response to Relationships” In Our Organizations?

The leadership capacity necessary of today’s school and educational administrators is overwhelming, to say the least.  The ever-expanding levels of knowledge, skills, responsibilities, bureaucracy, oversight and stakeholder input is increasing at a frightening rate.  And through all of the muck and mire that often accompanies the position, the bottom-line remains that the principal must serve as the instructional and lead learner on their campus.  A bottom-line that also acknowledges the impossibility of being all knowing and doing…an understanding that the sheer capacity necessary to serve the community with a high level of effectiveness requires the creation and delegation of leadership responsibility at all levels of the building and organization.

Which is why, as a principal, I was a firm proponent of and believer in Professional Learning Communities (PLC), meshed with Pyramid Response to Intervention (PRTI).  Two processes that engage and increase the instructional and leadership capacity of all teachers on the campus.  PLCs and PRTI provided the format and structures that not only attend to the learning needs of our students, but energize the adult learning.  Not to mention the positive cultural benefits that can be derived from engaging in the work.  PLCs and PRTI made us dig in and determine what it was that we wanted all students to learn and how we would respond when they didn’t learn.  It effectively ramped up the adult learning and leadership capacity at all levels of the school building.

Now, having the luxury of reflecting back on how our PLC and PRTI structures and supports created increased capacity across our campus…I have come to the realization for all the benefits, there might have been a missing piece to the puzzle.  A piece that has nothing and everything to do with instruction and learning in our classrooms and schools…

The missing piece, which has been made painfully obvious through the majority of issues, concerns, and complaints that cross the planes of our office doors each day, seldom focuses on instruction or our instructional program.  Rather, the main culprit revolves around issues of ‘relationships’.

Very often, large segments of an educational leaders day is spent solving relational issues of every kind…from student to student, student to teacher, teacher to teacher, teacher to administrator…not to mention other relational issues involving other staff, parents, stakeholders and community members.  Relational issues that are often time heavy and remove the principal from the main thing of the main thing…serving as the instructional and lead learner on their campus.

And yet, we do very little in our schools to provide the emotional and social learning and supports necessary for improved relations and relationships…even though we acknowledge these skills can be taught and enhanced at any age.

You might say we need a “Response to Relationships” plan in our schools…

We have structures to determine what students need to learn.  We have interventions to address those students who don’t learn it.  We have acceleration structures for those students who already know it.

And yet, we put very little supports and interventions in place to address what studies say students and parents consider the most important piece in the schooling puzzle…  relationships.

A “Response to Relationships” support could be viewed through the lens of a four-square grid that envelops the main relationships that are part of the functions and processes of school life; students, parents, staff, and community.  A “Response to Relationships” plan will allow school leaders to build relational capital with each of these groups, improving the overall culture and well-being of the school.  As follows:

  • Square #1:  Students
  • Square #2:  Staff
  • Square #3:  Parents
  • Square #4:  Community

Approaching social and emotional learning in a systematic way in our schools will not only improve the culture and build relational capital, it will free up more time to focus on the main thing of the main thing…student learning.

The more we invest in “Response to Relationships” across our schools and districts, the less time we spend fixing those relational issues that become obstacles to creating a positive learning environment, for our students, staff, and parents.  And the more time we can spend focused on enhancing our ability to serve our community as an effective learning community.

We have become ever more efficient and effective at attending to the instructional and professional development needs of our students and teachers.  Our schools and districts provide a wide variety of services, trainings, and events that incorporate and include parents and the community.  Why not set forth a plan for increasing the relational capital that will allow us to be more effective in all of these arenas, in our schools and across our districts.

“Response to Relationships” is aimed at systematically improving the relations and emotional intelligence of everyone in the system.  It can only pay off in improving the school culture and overall function from our classrooms to our district office.  It serves as a win-win for all stakeholders.

(The previous piece focuses on an topic for which I am very passionate about and working towards building and writing upon beyond this blog post status)