“You can’t do mighty deeds by yourself in isolation. If you have a vision to build a venture that will fly and sustain its journey through the clouds, you will not be able to do it alone…While it may be tempting to be a Superman or Wonder Woman…it doesn’t take long to realize the limitations of your superpowers.” -Bishop T.D. Jakes author of Soar!
This one goes out to all of the education leaders doing the job terrified. I am talking to you classroom leaders showing up daily but afraid that instruction isn’t as effective as it should or could be. I am talking to building leaders either newly minted or experienced who are showing up daily unsure of how to move the staff, school culture, or students forward but hesitant to ask for help. Lastly, this post is for you district leaders appointed to lead people but unsure of how to connect with them, make meaningful change for them, or of your capacity to get the job done. Here is the truth, you have to set a vision that is bigger than you. This sounds like a big task because it is. If you are wondering how to get started leading the way that you always believed you could here are some tips that have worked for me.
- Make a pitch
- The first step is to be sure that those impacted by your vision share it. This is as simple as sharing what you think the vision is/should be and what drove that determination. Is this vision based on data? Community need? Both? Then solicit feedback from everyone that would have to help carry out that vision or be impacted by it. For teachers this looks like naming to students a change you want to make in instruction and asking for their feedback about it. If the kids are too young, get feedback from parents. For building leaders and district leaders this is naming to staff what you believe the goal for instruction in a particular building or district should be and sharing your why for that decision. Then solicit feedback from them via survey or focus groups in order to hear them out.
- Common Ground
- After you have heard everyone out you are probably going to find yourself on the receiving end of several different opinions. When this happens, as leader you have to pull up and help your different groups find principles they all agree on. For example, in your classroom all students can agree that they want to learn in a way that is engaging for them. In a school building and district teachers would agree that all students can learn and should have access to quality learning experiences. They might also all agree that they are highly trained. When you get groups to identify one common principle they all agree on you have the basis for a far reaching vision.
- Think Big and Plan Small
- Now that your stakeholders have agreed on something it is time to use that as the launchpad for your vision. Take the principle and apply it in a big way to your environment. For example your vision might be “All students in this class will learn in a way that let’s them work together to solve real world problems.” or “Our school will be a place where teachers constantly work to improve their practice and student learning outcomes.” Once you have the big goal be sure to work with your same stakeholders (where applicable) to plan small steps to reach that big goal. What needs to happen this week? this month? this year? in order to make progress? Who will keep track of progress and what will it look like? Write out these steps, share them, and check on them often.
- Empower Your Team
- You must empower people to help you get the vision accomplished. This is the most important step and often the one where visionaries fall down. So often leadership is seen as a lonely endeavor. I would say this is the case primarily when leaders don’t ask for help. When you hire smart (or work to develop the talent you have on hand) and have a clear goal people want you to be successful. Not necessarily because they think you are so perfect but because the vision is compelling and people like being a part of that. When it comes to shared leadership, many in positions of power are still stuck being that sage on the stage. They deliver what they feel teachers and principals or students and parents need to know but do not invite them into the work of carrying it out.
You have to actually do something with all of the work your team puts in.
You get a vision off of the ground by showing people that their work is meaningful and leads to things actually happening in real time. Don’t have teachers and principals or parents and students working overtime today on something that you tell them in the end will not be implemented for another year. Give real work and allow real change to occur.
Remember, to lead is to constantly learn and while others may not tell you the truth, I always will. If the vision you have for your building or district is something that can be accomplished with a few key decisions by you, it is too small. Real vision, the kind that activates people and gives them work that is meaningful is something that takes many hands. Give people the opportunity to lend you a hand or risk ending up with a dream deferred. -Dr. Kia