The more you know, the less you need.
We are at a time in education, where we try to throw new strategies at every problem; we try to incorporate all the new and best technology; and we are always pursuing ideas that can make our classrooms and schools better. It can be an endless pursuit and can also make the current plain of education a difficult one to navigate. As a leader in a school it can be difficult to determine where to place your focus and energy. While continually looking for ways to improve the quality of our instruction is greatly needed, it does not reach the heart of education. The heart of education is the people; the students, the teachers, and the community that make up a school. If we forget about the people, then we have truly lost our purpose and our educational system for good. Leadership in a school is not about doing and having more, it is about focusing on what really matters.
A people first mindset is the driving force in leadership that is sustainable over time. Our jobs are bigger than test scores, school grades, bubble students, data mining for deficiencies, or any other metric that is typically used to determine the effectiveness of leaders, teachers, and students. I am not saying that using metrics does not have a place in education, on the contrary, they can provide us with important information to help students grow academically and can allow teachers to improve instructionally, but if this is our only focus then we will create transactional schools where students only leave with improved academic performance. We have become so focused on doing things right, that we have lost focus of doing the right things for those we serve. People need our support before they need our advice. And to be honest, our advice is never as good as we think it is anyway. As educators, we have the opportunity to stand alongside people everyday to impact lives and make our communities stronger. Rather than doing more (looking for quick fixes that will captivate students or improve data) we need to lead a school environment with less. Less in the sense of the word, stopping the endless quest to find a bandage to fix true problems, but also by starting with the heart first approach of Loving, Equipping, Serving, and taking care of Self.
Much like the quote at the beginning of this post, the longer I serve in the role of leading a school, the more I realize how few physical tools or strategies I need to be an effective leader. I do not need the newest technologies or be pursuing the latest trends in educational idealism, I need to put people first each and every day. I need less of what creates distractions and busyness and more heart and truth in my service to others. We all need more vision and value for what our schools can be and do for the lives of students before any resource or strategy to improve academic or instructional performance.
Here is a brief overview of the words that should live at the heart of your leadership:
Love is an action, not just a feeling. It is easy to say you love someone; it is much more difficult to show that love in your daily actions. Love means seeing people as they are first and foremost – valuing each person as a unique individual who brings a special talent to the world. Love means you care more about who a person is than what a person does. Love is unconditional. Loving someone is not the same as liking them. We all have people in our lives we love deeply even though we may not always like them. That is why love is an action, not a feeling. If we let only our feelings drive love, we will struggle to care deeply about those in our lives because feelings like pride, annoyance, joy, anger, apathy, and empathy come and go easily all the time. Love must be a way of living, a way of behaving. To be a great educator, we must love first.
Too often our focus in schools is to change people for the better. I believe our role is not to change, but to equip. Ultimately, if you really think about it, you cannot change someone else. People have to change themselves through their own desire and want to be different. Our focus in education is about change, it is about equipping people with the skills they need to change themselves. The tools we share with people around us needs to be purposeful, and serve as mechanisms that they can use to change their world. People lose faith in education when they see no connection between what they are doing and how it can impact their world. To be a great educator, we must equip people, rather than try to change them.
Educators are public servants. We are here to serve students, a school, and a community. What we give is important. How much we are willing to give is important. When we serve, if it is coming from the heart- we think about others first. Service is about putting others hopes, dreams, and desires above our own personal agenda. Different from equipping people, service is about providing support and meeting people where they are and helping them get to where they want to be. It is standing beside them and helping them retain hope, or rolling up your sleeves and assisting in doing the work at hand. Service is not about giving back, it is just about giving. To be a great educator, we must serve those around us.
While the first three ideas are very much about others, the last letter in this acronym is about taking care of ourselves. You cannot love others, until you love yourself. You cannot equip others, without first equipping yourself to meet daily challenges. You cannot serve others, unless you feed your own soul first. This is not an idea of selfishness; it is an idea of being self-ful. If you want to be vigilant in the care and building-up of others, you must first be vigilant in the care of yourself. People who do not follow this important step burn-out and leave the education field way too young. To be a great educator, you must take care of yourself.
Those four words are at the heart of what we do. Despite anything else we do in education, if we are missing any one of those four parts in our daily aspirations of being the best educator for others that we can be, I believe having a career in the field of education will never be a fulfilling, worthwhile endeavor.
Until next time…keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!