5 ways to increase student learning through leadership

Step One

Understand all teachers and administrators are on a hero’s journey:

Maybe they’ve just received the call to adventure to change students’ lives for the better. Maybe they’re in a crisis. Maybe they’ve been transformed by the adventure but are now back in the status quo. It’s important to recognize we’re all in different places.

Step Two

Determine your “Why”. Why do you do what you do? Not “How” or “What”, but “Why”?

Many institutions start with the “What?” Others have a large number of “Why’s”, and this results in a lot of implementations. When there’s no coherence between “Why’s”, things tend to get out of hand. The drivers for decision making become out of whack, and it’s possible the wrong drivers surreptitiously sneak into even the best well-intentioned program implementations.

The “Why” should lack boilerplate jargon and cliches. A great “Why” I heard from a colleague recently was: I want to teach every student as if he or she is my own child.

What a wonderful “Why”! It says so much in so few words. People understand what you mean when you say a “Why” like that. It means every decision is for the benefit of the child. All things will be done (or not done) because it’s good for the kids.

Step Three

Once the “Why” has been established, it’s time to spread the word. You need to find someone to follow you.

Notice how important the first follower is. The first follower is the person who turns what the “lone nut” is doing into a movement. This person is responsible for getting the “Why” adopted. Leaders must tell themselves the following statements:

  • My position of power does not guarantee followers.
  • My first follower will become just as important as me.
  • My authority may diminish as others are empowered.
  • Everything in the above bullet points is fine with me.

Step 4

OK, you have a “Why” and a following (or at least a first follower). How does the message spread? If the message is spreading fine on its own, what can you do to help refine it and move to the next level?

Tell your story (Why) in a simple, direct, and supercharged way.

Communication is important and frequently overlooked. Oftentimes, leaders believe there’s good communication when in fact there isn’t. I recommend telling your story (Why) over and over in a way that’s simple, direct, and supercharged.

Step 5

When everyone has an approximate visualization of where he or she is on the hero’s journey… when the “Why” has been established… when the first follower is attracting others to the tribe… and when the story is being told in a simple, direct, and supercharged kind of way… then capacity can be built.

Here’s the equation I believe will help a school or district build capacity:

Common “Why” + shared skill = Capacity

“Shared skills” is where coherence is so key–all members must understand the common tools and programs being used to help students learn. The only way this is possible is to have a small number of programs, simple systems (lowercase “s”, by the way), and an established way of teaching teachers and administrators.

Steve Jobs once said the following:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

To be a leader, you must say no to a thousand programs, interventions, devices, apps, and philosophies before saying one “yes”. This sentiment, in conjunction with the five above steps, will create an outstanding leader in the field of education.

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