Effective leaders intentionally strive to unveil the passions, skills, attitudes, dispositions, and talents of their team members within their organization. They magnify the power of possibility to positively impact teacher effectiveness and student achievement. These influential educational leaders ask good, thoughtful questions in order to discover who the most capable or talented person might be to carry out the specific work or task at hand. The leader and the organization ask focusing questions, such as A.) Who are we? B.) Why are we doing this? C.) Why are we doing this way? The byproduct of this reflection is action for improving student achievement (Garmston and Wellman, 2016, p. 10). These leaders are willfully perceptive, calculated in dialing into their communities, emotionally intelligent, and have the grit of archeologists. Effective leaders facilitate conversations that nudge those around them to take on leadership roles, and new, exciting tasks and responsibilities which are based on each person’s individual strengths and passions in spite of whatever “title” they hold within the organization. Simply put: They unify the organization with mining tools.
Educational leaders from teacher leaders to instructional coaches to school level administrators to interventionists to grade level chairs to district specialists, directors, and executive administrators, all are interconnected in serving the educational community. The work of one leader overlaps the work of another. It takes a community mindset to carry out the mission and vision of any district or school. Oftentimes, such titled leadership positions tend to work in silos with no fault to anyone. People at every level are just trying to divide and conquer all of the work that needs to get done. Until we mine further.
Working on a dynamic synergistic team does not happen on its own, nor does it happen by simply “dividing up the work of the organization”. Optimizing the level of engagement of everyone within the organization requires strategic planning, passion, and perseverance while embodying visions of goal-driven decision-making that are based on digging, mining, and sifting through the organization, mindfully. Think of all the tasks that must be carried out before they trickle down to the student level: a created mission and vision, committee-selected curriculum programs, development of pacing maps, intentional professional development frameworks for success, supported technology integration, data-driven academic interventions, consistent observation outcomes when using the evaluation instruments, planning for community events, and documenting processes and protocols. The business of education has so many moving parts that it requires leaders at every tier of the organization to recognize the talent, passion, and perseverance necessary to successfully carry out each of these tasks:
Emerging research suggests that there is far more to success in life than a country club pedigree or natural ability and sheer talent. Passion and perseverance, it turns out, matter more than talent or intelligence when it comes to being successful. For most of us, the corner office or professional kudos is the result of hard work, rather than exceptional genes. The end-game, it turns out, belongs to the truly diligent, not the merely talented. It belongs to those who have grit. (Thaler and Koval, 2015, p. 12)
Successful leaders organically work within professional learning communities, governed by shared leadership philosophies, rather than doling out tasks from behind closed doors. They mine and sift each day, looking for where talent lies. Invested and skilled leaders who aren’t afraid to chip away at exposing the organization’s greatest artifacts or gifts ask questions in order to adapt their own thinking to the needs of the community. They unify the organization by sifting through to the unknown and leverage the talents, passions and perseverance of everyone they come into contact with at any time. They do not just “stop” doing good work because of the strength of their archeological grit.
Working in Teams Rather than Silos
At all levels of leadership within an organization, each role (position) has an assigned set of expectations that are laid out by the guidelines of their official job description. But what if we crossed these “boundary lines” in order to support our goals? What might that even look like? Messy? Maybe an organized mess? For instance, whose job is it to plan and facilitate professional development for the teachers within a school? How do we differentiate among the varying levels of the teachers who reside in one place but have different needs? Is this the sole job of the curriculum director, the principal, or the instructional coaches? Is the calendar divided up by content areas and each content area specialist is responsible for coordinating the facilitation of their content area on the dates assigned for the purpose of checking off year-long planning squares? Or, will a leader search for talent in all of the nooks and crannies within the organization and lead from that focal point?
Maybe you have a teacher who is a strong model for small group instruction while a different teacher can masterfully integrate technology by flipping their classroom with ease? Maybe an interventionist has a special talent and passion for facilitating professional trainings? These are all people who have added incredible value to your professional development plan if you leverage their talent by connecting them with the individuals who need their expertise. Knowing where the talent lies is hard work. It won’t happen on its own. You must be willing to invest the time and intentionally seek out these high-capacity gold mines that already exist within your organization. You must dig deep and dig hard to achieve great outcomes. Seeking out the treasures within your organization requires mining for passion, skills, knowledge, and social connections, all with an archeological grit.
Mining for Passion
We all come to work with our schema established from our own experiences. Background experiences bring relevance to a person’s ideals, wishes, hopes, and dreams. Schema can be a positive leveraging point for your leadership team if you are attuned to and value the life experiences of others. Getting to know every stakeholder individually, to find out what makes them tick, will help you begin digging and sifting to find the most invigorating passion that exists within everyone on your educational team. Consider a teacher who loves to do photography, one who might run marathons regularly, an instructional coach who is an interior designer, and a mentor who plans weddings on the weekends. For the leader who is not mining for success, these skills might not have anything to do with education. Yet, these skills may very well have powerful applications relevant to your organization. Whether you are planning a spirit week, writing a grant for a community garden, getting ready for a maker-movement extravaganza, or planning your next school-wide talent show, all these talents add richness and value to any organization and how you ultimately leverage leadership talent is something that should not be ignored. Find out what ignites passion in each person and find a way to use it as a catalyst to ignite even more passion. Create any possible opportunity to mine for passion and use those passions to create passionate students as well.
Mining for Skills& Knowledge
We all have different skill levels and cannot be masters of everything. What comes naturally to one might be completely incomprehensible for the next person. In addition to using social media, we can listen closely to conversations in meetings, watch body language, and tend to the details of our leadership positions while looking for other details. You may know a teacher who is completely organized and another one who struggles to tuck in his or her own shirt. You may know a mentor, who is highly skilled at diffusing and deescalating negative student behavior, while another educator down the hallway is being held captive by their 10thgrade students. Your assistant principal may be a certified trainer in writing workshops and you may even have a teacher blogger who is routinely sharing helpful classroom management tips online without your knowledge. But, you sift further. You dig deeper. The only way that you will be able to leverage the knowledge and skills among your staff is by becoming a treasure hunter stopping at nothing to discover the individual skills and knowledge of each person around you. Watch. Listen. Dig. Mine. Sift. Leverage.
Mining for Social Connections
People are social creatures driven by emotions, beliefs and passions. Like-minded people are attracted to like-minded people. Everyone experiences “aligned relatedness” (Coda and Jetter, 2016), which is a concept about professional similarities presented in our book, Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How to Prevail When Others Want to See You Drown. Social connections can work in your favor if you know they exist and intend to leverage them. A high-performing teacher may be socially connected to teachers across the state through other educational organizations as a self-motivated learner. The teacher may already be implementing new practices that are positively impacting an entire grade level. By exploring the methods and strategies the teacher is using and the networked group of people, as a leader, you can learn and grow alongside them as you dig, mine, and sift out the best in everyone. Ask questions, probe, and listen to everything happening around you. These methods and network of educators may even have something to offer your entire staff that all teachers would benefit from. Maybe all it would take is inviting this particular group of people to simply share their ideas with the rest of your staff.
Sometimes, highly intricate social connections might be as simple as a teacher’s uncle working for your local newspaper who could feature something great happening at your school. Another teacher down the hall might have a friend who owns a t-shirt making business and can give you a discount for products for your school. Being aware of social connections that have the potential to add to the overall plan for your students and school is a powerful leadership behavior and action, which is driven by an archeological grit.
Effective leaders mine for the positive attributes in each and every person that will support and serve the mission and vision of the organization. Whether looking for a mentor for a group of students, a teacher to lead a grade level, someone to track the achievement data of the school, or someone to plan a school-wide event, varying talents are needed to carry out the work of education:
Today’s teachers have an extraordinary number of options. The choice to teach the way they always have or innovate and learn from others within their professional learning network (PLN). The choice to remain a passive observer in faculty meetings and at conferences or become a powerful voice of the profession. The choice to let others do the heavy lifting required to move the school forward or play an active role in school improvement and visionary leadership. The choice to count down the days to retirement or make the most of every instructional moment both inside and outside the classroom. (Sterrett, 2015).
Effective educational leaders possess a mindset that values differences, compensates for weaknesses, and capitalizes on strengths. When all members of a leadership team work together with an interconnectedness of passion and vision, it infuses the professional culture by reaching every stakeholder within their school community. When talent, passion, and perseverance are optimized, the positive gains create ultimate unity and passion.
Mining for Grit with Grit
Most states are dealing with a shortage of teacher and teacher-leaders. Education is not an easy profession; it is not for the faint-hearted. However, it requires one ingredient that is the most profound attribute needed in education: grit. According to Duckworth’s research, and as highlighted in Forbes by Perlis (2016), grit is comprised of five salient characteristics: courage, conscientiousness, long-term goals and endurance, resilience, and excellence. Grit is one of the most profound attributes in education, and it is necessary to embody grit for ultimate leadership success. According to Hoerr (2013):
Our grit helps us determine how to respond when things go wrong. Most of us have developed routines that enable us to plan, work, and be successful. Grit gives us resilience. It not only keeps us focused on a task but also enables us to persevere when we fail.
Yet, grit without explicit leadership behaviors is only grit. Grit cannot stand alone. If we dig, mine, and sift for talent on every front of our organization and do that with grit, we are building an economy of archeologists who will never stop digging for organizational success.
Talent, passion, knowledge, skills, and grit are all key ingredients to any successful organization. Naturally leveraging these talents requires a leader who is willing to not only be a learner, but also to cross any barrier necessary to do what is best for students. If we are in the business of educating the whole child, shouldn’t we be in the business of leading the whole educator? If we can stand the test of time by becoming successful leaders and doing it with a special sense of toil, strength, and tenacity, we will be able to dig up all of the gems and reap the benefits of an organization that helps students in new and amazing ways, because that is how organizations thrive on all fronts.
About The Authors:
- Rebecca Coda, NBCT is currently a K-6 Director of Curriculum & Instruction in Cabot, Arkansas. She is the founder of Digital Native Network, co-founder of Pushing Boundaries Educational Consulting, and Co-author of Let Them Speak: How Student Voice Can Transform Your School & Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank with Dr. Rick Jetter. Rebecca a social justice warrior and advocate of student voice and equity. She is the mother of three children of trauma adopted from the foster system. She is a national speaker with over ten years’ experience facilitating professional development in all content areas grades K-8 for district administrators, principals, instructional coaches, educators & parents. She has served as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, district level ELA curriculum specialist, and district-wide technology Integration specialist. Her true passion is learning and growing from everyone around her to support the academic success of all students. She leads with impact and will settle for nothing less than making a difference for every child……. because our kids are counting on US! You can learn more about her work at rebeccacoda.com.
- Rick Jetter,D. (a.k.a. “Dr. J.”) is an author, speaker, trainer, and national education consultant. He has worked in the field of education for over 21 years and has held the positions of: alternative education teacher, English teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent of schools before pursuing a career in consulting, speaking, writing, and publishing. Rick has recently returned to the classroom as a Grade 9 English teacher and Humanities Department Coordinator at the Western NY Maritime Charter School. He is also the co-founder and lead consultant at Pushing Boundaries Consulting, LLC with his co-author of various books, business partner, and friend, Rebecca Coda, NBCT.
Rick is currently one (of a very small handful) of scholars and thought leaders who develops narrative theory research models for transforming school culture and carrying out school reform initiatives. He has written 6 books for the educational community, numerous articles, and has also contributed various chapters for other authors’ edited works.
Finally, Rick’s professional interests lie in adversity training for educators, student voice, leadership training, and school reform initiatives. You can learn more about his work by visiting www.rickjetter.com.
- Coda, R., and Jetter, R. (2016). Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How to Prevail When Others Want to See You Drown. California: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.
- Garmston, R. and Wellman B. (2016). The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups. London: Rowman & Littlefield.
- Hoerr, T. (2013). Fostering Grit: How do I prepare my students for the real world? Alexandria: ASCD.
- Perlis, M. (2016). Five Characteristics of Grit—How Many Do You Have? Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/margaretperlis/2013/10/29/5-characteristics-of-grit-what-it-is-why-you-need-it-and-do-you-have-it/#47463be41f76
- Sterrett, W. (2015). Igniting Teacher Leadership: How do I empower my teachers to lead and learn? Alexandria: ASCD.
- Thaler, L., Koval R. (2015). Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary. New York: Crown Publishing Group.