I have come to believe that schools should be a place of intellectual engagement, and personal challenge. I believe schools should be a place where creativity is nurtured and developed. I believe schools should be a community of learners and a source of support and deep reflection. I believe that there is no better place for your child to learn than with a talented teacher in a classroom that inspires and engages them. It is with these beliefs that I focus my work, as an educational leader striving to empower my colleagues, my students and my school community to build what I hope is an inspirational and engaging environment. One does not have to dig very deep into the research to find out the best schools in the world have built this sort of learning environment by finding talented, dedicated educators who connect students through quality learning opportunities using innovative and authentic teaching methods. Even the most intolerant student can’t resist this compelling combination to make each of their academic years better and more fulfilling than the last.
Ask any child what grade they are in, and they will gleefully and proudly tell you without pause their grade and probably their teacher’s name. I remind myself and those that I work with that the children in our schools usually only get one chance to be in the particular grade for which they are currently enrolled. My daughter Madeline is always my example. She’s in Kindergarten and will only be a kindergartner once in her life. She is so proud and we are proud of her. To us as her parents and to Maddie herself, it is highly important that she have the best educational experience she can get this year. I expect the same for the rest of the children in my school. I don’t believe I overstate our charge here, in that we really do have great influence on the lives of our students, and I take that tremendous responsibility seriously, but at the same time I celebrate this duty with great enthusiasm and joy.
I recently read the book The Power of Unreasonable People, by Elkington and Hartigan. I was struck by the amount of influence innovative and courageous people have on the world. While I don’t consider myself to be particularly “unreasonable”, I will admit that when it comes to the quality of the educational programs in the schools in which I lead, I tend to be more “unreasonable” than most. I believe in being educationally courageous. I think all great school leaders must be to some extent. We must focus our energy on the vision of the schools in which we work and carry forward a tolerable level of unreasonable expectation within the context of compassionate and democratic thought. It is that type of energy I bring to my work day in and day out.
I pay close attention to learning processes in my work day to day. I am a learner first and foremost and love the process of gaining new skills or knowledge. I embrace the struggle and revel in my own success, but nothing engages me more that to have a group of individuals with whom I am working succeed in moving ideas forward from a collection of unassembled ideas to a final implemented solution. It is through working as a team member that I find the chance to dig in deep, understand the classrooms and children we teach and gather conceptual knowledge of my school. Only then can I clearly communicate the successes of our school and the value of the education we provide.
I believe in the idea of modeled leadership. I think we can all name a few teachers or educational leaders we admire, and I am no exception having had the pleasure and honor to work with some of the most innovative leadership minds in international education. I have also watched powerful and intelligent educational leaders move through careers during my time in the United States wearing the mantle of leadership with grace and style. Both groups of leaders have taught me key lessons in humility, patience and persistence. They have shown me what “grace under pressure” looks like. I honor them by following their visionary ideals, copying their delivery of a key phrase or concept, and understanding that I cannot replicate their approach or their style. Thus I work to develop my own approach to leadership, striving to remember the key attributes I admire in great educational leaders are modeling personal and professional reflection and demonstrating a love of children, of schools and of innovation.
I honor creativity and believe it is one of the key mechanisms through which deep understanding can be demonstrated. Through my work I encourage creativity in as many ways as I can with my colleagues, my students and my own children. While it is arguable that one cannot measure creativity, I believe we all recognize it when someone shows such originality and imagination. I also believe that most organizations do not celebrate it enough when someone truly makes a difference by demonstrating this important lever of change. It is no surprise to any of us that success leads to further success, and the same holds true to the celebration of creativity, which will move learning organizations far beyond our expectations.
Leaders should be seen as involved, aware and in tune with their school, and I believe this can be done through a hands-on approach to leadership. It is my intent to always participate in the life of the schools I serve rather than to sit on the sidelines, watching the learning and the hard work happen. I believe this is the job of teachers and administrators to dig in and get their hands dirty (educationally at the very least)! The people I most admire, share and serve with openness, a humble approach and great delight. They, like me, grow from this service approach to leadership, and in most cases gain great insight to their schools. At the very least I believe I earn the respect of my colleagues in the process. I prefer to roll up my sleeves, to stack the chairs, run my own errands and make my own coffee, all the while looking for ways to help my students, my colleagues and my school. By doing so I can quickly become aware of my challenges, and my barriers. I can then move forward with great confidence in the “on the ground” information I can gather through this approach.
It is common sense that barriers for improvement in our schools must be defined and marginalized. These barriers or constraints exist in all organizations and are often hidden behind terms like tradition, standard practice, and schedules. While I don’t have any problem with the phrase, “that’s the way we have always done it”, I do recognize that it may represent a traditional approach that may need to be adapted and redefined in order to move forward toward new successes. To best address improvement barriers, we must strive as educators to define for our community the learning environment that will inspire students and defy the constraints that are holding our schools back from growing and changing. These may be found in unique and different approaches to learning, the engagement in the use of instructional technology tools and the redefinition of ideas that represent what school is, what it can be, and what it will look like for our students.
As we gain knowledge of new and different ways to engage students, I believe we can then connect them to the world outside our schools and classrooms. Some people claim that the classroom itself could be defined as a barrier. I believe the problem must be defined by the way in which we are engaging the newly expanding and interconnected, technology-driven world with our students. I believe that through this process we can begin to enable the collaboration, educational interaction and sharing of information, data and learning content so important for our students’ success in the future.
First and foremost, I believe that schools will always be a place of learning, wisdom and reflection. Schools will continue to be a center for community interaction and hold great social importance. It is most important for us as international education leaders, to recognize and take responsibility for the fact that our schools cannot continue to be run like they have been in the past. Our schools must be different because the world is different and changing faster than ever. I am sure we all agree that our complex world will continue to change as generations of students gain entrance to our classrooms, learn, grow and then graduate. We hope they emerge to a life of success, a life of integrity, of international citizenship and of great knowledge of themselves and of the world. As I stated before I take this responsibility with great seriousness and also with great joy and enthusiasm.