Have we reached the point where we are content with the status quo? The thought of this scares me on so many levels; what it means for our kids, for our schools, and ultimately for our communities. Lately I have been asking teachers and school leaders alike where in their organizations does average exist? What I admire about educators everywhere is that they are willing to not only admit that yes, average exits in their schools, but more often than not they point to themselves first when identifying the areas where average lives. Recently I had an interaction with a principal who admitted to me, “I know I did an average job evaluating teachers this year.” I could tell he was bothered, if not just a bit embarrassed by his own words as they were leaving his mouth. If we were to be completely honest, I think there are many of us who at one time or another could say the same if we were willing to own our own shortcomings. Maybe the dilemma doesn’t lie in status quo after all as long as we are willing to take responsibility for it. Yet I have learned that merely taking responsibility for it only scratches the surface and detracts us from the more important question we should always ask when we are confronted by the status quo.
What are we doing about it?
As school leaders it is our responsibility to not allow average to become our standard. More than ever I am convinced of one thing…..leadership matters. It matters a lot. The longer I stay in the trenches as a school leader the more I understand the difference between now and tomorrow is me. It’s as simple as that. As principal, it is not only my responsibility to identify where average lives, but I have an obligation to make sure I am taking action to change it, not just manage it. The same can be said of classroom teachers who lead their classrooms, athletic coaches who work with our student athletes and of course, Superintendents, who lead our school districts. Nevertheless, that is often the place we find ourselves, simply managing it. The idea of challenging the status quo can seem daunting, overwhelming to many. I get it, I really do. It will drain us of our energy, create undue stress, impact our mood, and even negatively affect our mindset if we are not careful. So let me offer a few suggestions for moving past the status quo and re-defining the purpose of the work you do so you will aspire for nothing short of excellence.
Strive to be a leader who….
- Believes kids can: I think we always have to begin with the belief that kids can. Leaders who have transformed their belief systems to acquire such a mindset are never deterred by failure or the unknown. They remain motivated by hope and faith.
- Models the behaviors you want to see repeated: Smile a lot, engage everyone you see in genuine conversation, clean up a mess rather than call a custodian to clean it up, apologize to a student or staff member & ask for forgiveness, say “we” and “our” instead of “I” and “my” when sharing success stories. Intentionally seek out those in your schools who go above and beyond and tell them how much you appreciate them.
- Doesn’t dwell on problems, but rather cherishes the conversations: Begin to see every challenge as an opportunity to initiate a conversation that if done appropriately, will lead to more conversations and cultivate a more meaningful relationship that was never there before. Solve problems 100 conversations at a time.
- Looks past the workload: The work is never going away, so begin to embrace the value in the work that you do and share the positives with others that come from it with a sense of passion, purpose and pride rather than complain about it. Complaining about it says more about you than the work you are paid to do.
- Gathers energy from others with whom you interact: When you focus on serving and fulfilling the needs of others, inherently you will feel good about the work you do and you will derive more energy from it. Repeat this process over and over.
- Fosters a sense of pride in the building everywhere: Pay close attention to even the smallest of details. Walk your school building and grounds at least once a week and take notes on where items need to be addressed. View every irregularity as a coffee stain on a shirt or blouse that needs to be washed or dry-cleaned right away. Work alongside your custodial and grounds crew teams to model the standard you expect and then make sure you take time to recognize the changes.
- Who doesn’t allow others to opt out of doing: When administrators, teachers, para-professionals, etc., opt out of what is communicated or is expected to be done, that is not a staff issue, but rather a leadership issue. Eliminate opting out as an option and hold people accountable. Bring not only your best to every situation, but expect others to do so as well. Be the standard by which others in your organization are measured.
- Not only takes time to think, but follows up by doing: Sometimes it is necessary to take more time to process information when making decisions. However, don’t fall victim to wanting to keep processing for fear of making a decision. Thinking is necessary, but so is doing. Have the courage to act and make something happen.
- Doesn’t wait for others to change: You change. Take responsibility for your own behavior. You cannot paralyze yourself because others are not doing the things that need to be done. Take initiative and be the change, not the same.
- Who never stops learning from others: There is no shame in admitting that you don’t know how to do something. Don’t be disingenuous by faking your way through something when you could have gained more credibility by simply admitting that you did not know something. Model learning, always.
- Finds the right balance in the “what ifs”: I have shared many times that I rarely make decisions on the “what if” this happens because I don’t want to lose out on 95% of the great things that would have never happened because I focused on the 5% of the “what ifs?” But I also want our students and staff to live in a “what if” world that focuses on the part that asks, “What if we went for it? What if we did this instead? What if we contacted so and so and did such and such.” You get the point. Throw away the box!
- Inspires people and their ideas: When a student, colleague, or staff member approaches you with an idea that clearly they are excited about, your charge is to make sure that when that person leaves they are more excited and jacked up about their idea than they were before they met with you. Lift people and their ideas up, don’t push them down or dismiss them.
We cannot allow ourselves to live in a world that accepts status quo as our standard. We are so much better than that and our kids and our employees deserve more than just average. In fact, by accepting average we run the risk of eventually falling back to below average. Without question every now and then we will find ourselves visiting the world of average but when that happens let’s not take up residence and live in average but rather take time to check ourselves and ask…..
What are we doing about it?
“Leadership is the challenge to be something more than average” – Jim Rohn