Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On leadership and education

Seemingly mired in a state of inexplicable inertia—

Hoping to extricate myself with this writing—

These resonated deeply with me in the last few weeks—

In Matters of the Heart, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach mentions seven themes of a leadership approach espoused by Jonathan Jansen:

1. We must recognize the politics of emotions that energize behaviors.

2. The change strategy cannot create victims.

3. The problem must be named and confronted.

4. Leaders must exemplify the expected standards of behavior.

5. We must engage emotionally with students in their world.

6. Teachers and principals themselves are sometimes actors.

7. The environment must accommodate risk. (Jansen, 2009b, p.189)

The basic message Jansen gives and Fullan underscores is that we need to learn to combine love, trustworthiness, and empathic but firm handling of resistance, to quicken the pace of the change we wish to see.

Themes one and two really caught my attention. As many work to impact and redirect the trending educational policy of the current administration, hoping to move the punitive rhetoric to that which is positive and supporting of America’s children, I think there is an important implication in “recognizing the politics of emotions that energize behaviors”. It’s my sincere belief that a focus on the well being of our children, the well being of our democracy plays to those emotions and can energize a diverse group of stakeholders and citizens to become activists in changing the direction of educational policy.

What really struck me was number two—a theme that seems rare in these days of polarity, vitriol, and deep partisanship in which bitterness and hatred often prevail-- a theme to me that offers limitless potential and possibility for moving forward. In Leadership comes from within, Jansen writes:

“I have learned that leadership is not only technical and muscular; it is also spiritual and emotional. Strong leaders are in touch with their own emotions and the emotions of their followers. They know that the "bottom line" can only be achieved by relating to the spiritual and emotional lives of people.

In divided communities, equanimity of leadership matters. Even-handed leadership acknowledges the humanity of all followers, irrespective of what they look like or what they believe.

I've learned that leadership that overcomes division has to be counter-cultural leadership.

To be a strong leader, do what people do not expect; love those you are expected to hurt; forgive those who do not deserve it. Surprise your followers by generosity when it is least expected. Make your leadership appeal to human solidarity.”

I see this leadership approach more far more difficult than the bitter blasting away at and denigrating of those that disagree and hence creating victims; it has the power to engage all parties in systemic change. To those who may find this unrealistic, Jansen bases his tenets on the leadership of Nelson Mandela in South Africa (Mandela’s 8 Lessons of Leadership under the link) which is what Jansen terms a leadership that makes an “enduring difference.” Given the changes that have occurred in what was historically a bitterly divided South Africa, my sense is we would do well to adopt and adapt these Jansen’s premises and Mandela’s lessons as we work to support a new direction in educational policy.

How might that approach to leadership look, read and feel? Two brief examples--

From Chris Lehman in Constructing Modern Knowledge Reflections – This feels to me an exemplar of language that envisions leadership in education from a lens similar to that of Jansen:

“…we also succeeded because we were in an environment where we were encouraged to spend the time to solve the problem. We had the permission, freedom, time and resources to create something.

This week, I was reminded of how powerful -- and how frustrating -- problem-solving and building can be. I also was reminded that we can work with our hands, we can listen and engage our minds in the world of ideas, and we can speak from our hearts.”

From Brian Crosby who urges us to go “back to the notion of building schools that honor kids” and in his sharing leads us, aware of our emotions that energize— through his students, our students--

What can we gain from such an approach? The possibilities abound-- How can we garner support to move forward in this way? Can it be through our very own modeling and demonstration?