Well, if there is ever a time that nothing is guaranteed, this is it! We are going through an unprecedented, unpredictable, and challenging time, and having guarantees does not seem to be happening any time soon. We find ourselves attending meetings, hearing mandates, providing feedback on how these mandates will affect our schools, only to have everything be obsolete by the end of the meeting. Constant change is an understatement. However, there are some things which have not changed, our overall purpose in what we do. So, I call on all of you, to look past the guarantees, take some chances and some risks. I call on you educational leaders, to Rise Up and Lead!
Rise up and tune out the noise. I have heard from many of my colleagues how daunting it is to listen to the news or peruse social media. On one hand, being informed and connected is important, on the other hand, it can be overwhelmingly negative and depressing. It does not help that it is also an election year, which always seems to amplify the noise. Some would say, as a nation, we are more divided than ever. With the school year upon us, it is time for us to lead. With so much out of our control, it is imperative that we stay focused on what is within our control. We can control our attitude to the various restrictions and stipulations put into place by being positive and reassuring that student and teacher wellness and student learning remains the focus of our efforts. As educational leaders, we are called upon to lead our faculty in providing equal learning opportunities for all students. Although we may have to get creative, the mission has not changed, and we should assure our students, parents and teachers that we can Rise Up and be successful in providing high levels of learning for all students during this challenging time.
Lead by listening. With so many concerns surrounding our return to school, it is easy to get caught up in trying to quickly provide solutions to all of the issues being discussed. Listening to our students, faculty and communities is essential to understanding specific concerns. Once we return, we will have been out of our normal school routine for five months. We may not completely understand the cognitive and emotional effects of this disruption for quite some time. We prolong understanding what our students and faculty have been through if we fail to listen to them. We prolong solutions and the ability to provide support to those in need, if we fail to listen. In a time where I feel like I need to provide so much information to many different groups, I am reminded of a quote by Edward Bowes, “Your ability to listen is an indication of your ability to lead.” We are in the business of making connections. However, we are also in the business of making decisions. With each new “mandate” I feel the pressure to inform everyone of “how this is going to be done.” However, if I fail to truly listen to the concerns, thoughts and ideas of others, I will miss out on a chance to build trust, build relationships and to learn. We are also in the business of learning.
Rise Up and Lead together! Now more than ever, we need to lean on each other to get through this tough situation, together. Each of us has felt the impact of this pandemic. Every school in the nation is feeling the impact. Taking the “business as usual” approach is not an option. We must make shifts in our methods to meet the various needs of our students and staff. I am reminded of a quote by the late John Wooden, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” We can take this new challenge as a way to push us out of our comfort zone. To get creative and to provide education in ways we may have thought were too difficult or impossible. However, we do not have to go it alone. Lorne Michaels, longtime producer of Saturday Night Live, once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” We are very fortunate to be working with the best educators in the nation and I am confident that when we put our heads together, the answer is in the room, or in our State. I am grateful to be surrounded by some of the most inspiring educators, and encourage each of us to reach out, ask questions, provide insight and listen to each other. We can achieve greatness when we lead together.
We have been called to Rise Up and Lead like never before. Our normal lives came to a screeching halt. Students, parents and government officials asked us, “Can you still educate the students? How will you do this?” We answered loudly and clearly, “Yes we can” and we did! Although we may have found some gaps and some inconsistencies in our systems, we did it! As we move forward, into more of the unsurety and unknown, I encourage you all to rise above the noise, sharpen your listening skills to better understand the needs of students, staff and communities, and make connections. I also encourage you to reach out to others. Build a collaborative community of leaders you deem as the “smartest people in the room” to help in making decisions. We are still in the unchartered territory. There is no pandemic handbook for us. The rabbit hole of seeking information from sources who do not have the answers, keeps us from what is important. We will have moments of regrouping and reconfiguring. We will have to take a leap of faith and be risk takers without guarantees. However, I will avoid panic. Why? Because I am confident in all of you. I am confident that we can do this together. I am confident that we will do what we do best for our students and teachers. I will also avoid the rabbit hole. The answers are not there. The answers are with all of you, or all of us- the smartest people in the room. I will look to you to help me Rise Up and Lead!