I walk in, dragging my feet a bit, set down my coffee, click on the speaker and with the first few notes of “Midnight Train to Georgia,” I get energy in my feet. I start to glide around the room as I spread out my Sharpies, hang the large Post-Its, and set out the candy. I know it’s going to be a good day.
The foam on the edges of the waves grazed the outside of my foot and I felt the sand catch my heel with every step. I was intently focused as I walked along the beach outside of my home in Jacksonville, Florida, considering my intention for 2020. It had been a few years since I had abandoned new year's resolutions in exchange for yearly intentions, which has proven to be a great decision. Gone are the days of abandoned gym memberships, replaced by a sense of wonder for new ways to move my body and build strength. This year, my intention has been to “be gentle,” to myself and others.
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“One bag of peanut butter M&Ms, please.” It’s the first step I take as I enter a movie theater before selecting the perfect middle-center seat – a ritual I began with my mom as a child. On this day, instead of rushing to the front of the line, I took a moment to look around. There was a buzz in the room as kids and adults of all ages lined up to see the first black superhero. There is no doubt that Black Panther was a major milestone for the United States and the world. Throngs of people viewed the film multiple times, relishing the opportunity to be represented in such an empowering way. A couple of years later I noticed a similar sense of pride at the release of Captain Marvel, a film featuring a female superhero. I knew the Avengers was a well-regarded team but it was clear that these additions were crucial. It’s difficult to imagine a complete team without the most recent additions because of the unique perspectives they bring. It is the first step in a longer commitment to inclusion and empowerment.
I released my body weight and fell to the ground. My aching shoulders wouldn't let me complete one more rep, but as I looked over at my workout partner, who would have to complete every rep that I did not, I felt a surge of energy and picked myself up once more. In that moment, inspiration struck me. What we do will only give us so much momentum, but a community invested in why we do it will help us accomplish things that previously seemed impossible. This reminded me of the work districts engage in to achieve their own strategic direction: no one person can do it alone. How could we apply this concept to a greater philosophy of change management? It became my mission to find out! Since we are in the business of building strong responsive habits in schools and districts, we practice habit-building through company-wide monthly challenges. In the past, we have challenged ourselves to go plant-based, meditate daily, and practice moments of gratitude. We have learned a lot about how we operate based on the success and participation in each challenge. This seemed like the perfect venue to try a new, ambitious experiment: virtually travel from our headquarters in San Carlos, CA to our DC office (with a few stops to some remote teammates on the way)! Our goal? Collectively travel a total of 3,070 miles.
In The New School Rules, Anthony Kim and Alexis Gonzales-Black write that every district has experience putting together a strategic plan, and most follow the same process. “We labor over these plans—sometimes over the course of 12 to 24 months—dreaming up the path ahead and detailing the resources we’ll need...Unfortunately, once we’re set to go, we find the situation has changed before we’ve gotten started. Technology programs or platforms may have changed or been discontinued. People have changed—in districts with a high number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, teacher turnover can be over 22 percent (Di Carlo, 2015)—and the new team isn’t up to speed. Policies have evolved and buy-in has dropped off.” And with many strategic plans expected to expire in 2020, and many districts reporting that they did not hit their previous strategic-planning intended outcomes, we recommend you bring in different considerations for your next 5-year strategic plan.
“The more senior you are, the more important listening becomes. Once a leader speaks, most people stop listening to one another and start positioning themselves. But when the leader doesn’t speak, then, just like a great choir, people have to listen and respond to one another. That’s how and when distinctive work emerges. Knowing you will be heard creates space for thinking.” Vicki Abeles, Beyond Measure We have been on a journey that began with personal reflection and then expanded to thinking about the way we work with others and develop teams and communities. In the final installment of our three-part leadership series, we will discuss how to use the Innovative School Leader Competencies to take the reins and drive innovation.