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There is no substitute for resilient leadership

Resilient people are often called upon to be leaders, a responsibility that both draws upon their resilience and cultivates it for future use.

Early in my career I did not understand the importance of leadership. Schools, I thought, would improve if teachers were simply given the tools to do their work and the freedom to use them.

But then I had an opportunity to closely observe a school whose teachers and parents were frustrated and dispirited. Students performed poorly, and everyone felt hopeless about the future.

Eventually a new principal came to the school. Over the next 3 years things got better. Staff and parent morale improved, as did teaching and student learning.

That principal eventually went on to another assignment, and the school’s new principal was more like the first one. Things spiraled downwards into a hopelessness that felt more profound because of the school’s rollercoaster journey.

Later on in my professional development work I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching and learning.

I enjoyed those conversations immensely except when teachers were angry and cynical.

Without exception, I observed that those teachers were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three.

My work came to focus on principals and teacher leaders because without their skillful leadership teacher professional learning and teamwork were unlikely to occur in ways that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

What is your experience—is it possible to continuously improve teaching and learning without skillful leadership?

Resilience can be fostered by…

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.” —Jane Kenyon

Resilience can be fostered by:

Reflecting on our life experiences, extracting important lessons from those experiences, and acting in ways that are consistent with those lessons

Using our strengths to achieve important goals

• Doing the “difficult thing to maintain momentum in important areas of our lives

Recognizing that courage does not mean the absence of fear but rather acting in the presence of it

Being part of an ongoing community that offers clarity of purpose, interpersonal support, and exemplars of the people we hope to become

Reading biographies and autobiographies to deepen our understanding of how others have been tested and strengthened through adversity

Being a “good steward of your gifts” in the ways Jane Kenyon recommends.

What would you add to my list?

6 Cs of Resilience

I offer the “6 Cs of resilience” to stimulate your thinking and perhaps guide your actions:

Clarity about values, ideas, goals, and strategies to accomplish those goals. Such clarity will come in and out of focus and require fresh thinking when circumstances change within and around us.

Commitment to persist through difficult times. Resilience sometimes requires doing the thing we don’t want to do but that we know is important.

Communication that seeks first to understand and that is both respectful and assertive. Such communication is particularly challenging when people vigorously disagree with us by asserting values and positions that we believe are irrational and even immoral.

Community to gain clarity, support, guidance, inspiration, and the power of collective action when we are addressing powerful social and economic forces. Dialogue created in community can also help us find and maintain clarity.

Courage to do what is uncomfortable and even frightening. Courage is not the absence of fear, but instead acting in its presence. As someone once said, “Feel the fear and do it anyways.”

Care, beginning with self-care. Self-care means making our physical, emotional, and spiritual health a priority, because if we don’t care for ourselves the other Cs will be difficult if not impossible to achieve. Care also includes, of course, respect for others, especially those with whom we most strongly disagree.

No matter our starting place, the “6Cs” enable us to take well-considered stands about things that are significant to us and to join with others to achieve what we cannot accomplish alone.

Which of the Cs is most important for you at this particular moment in time?

Resilience requires being our best selves more consistently

Everyone is better than you are… (at something). Which makes it imperative that you connect and ask for help. At the same time that we encounter this humbling idea, we also need to acknowledge that you are better at something than anyone you meet. Everyone you meet needs something you can do better than they can. —Seth Godin

Each of us is a bundle of strengths and “weaknesses,” which means there are two ways of thinking about personal improvement—remedy our flaws or more consistently use our strengths.

While each of us has a few “flaws” that may deserve prompt attention, we are far more likely to achieve our individual goals and collective goals when we and others hone and persistently use our strengths.

That’s what resilient people do, I think.

Rather than spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on or lamenting their deficits, or trying to correct those of others, they identify their strengths and apply them at every opportunity consistent with their values and goals.

Put another way, resilient people more consistently offer their “best selves” to the world—that is, the part of them that is most influential and creates well-being and energy among those with whom they interact.

As an example, I have learned that I am my “best self” when I use my talents for planning, writing, innovating, and advocating for things that are important to me.

Over time I have learned that I am far happier, productive, and effective when I more consistently use my strengths and the synergy generated among them to serve purposes greater than myself.

Some things to consider:

What are the attributes of relationships and/or environments that elicit your best self?

What does your best self look like at work? With family and friends? In addressing issues that concern your community and nation?

Are there common strengths among those best selves? What can you do to develop and use those strengths more consistently?

Together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies: it took a village to translate Park’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. —Parker Palmer

Resilient people understand that sustaining a commitment to significant change requires the support, guidance, and inspiration of a community.

But not all groups are created equal in their resilience and effectiveness.

Groups that make a difference:

• have skillful, committed leaders who maintain focus and momentum over time,

• ensure that group time is used productively to achieve the group’s goals,

• have a stable core membership,

• engage in high-impact activities,

• follow through on plans with accountability for results, and

• train group members to successfully complete agreed upon activities.

In schools such collective work requires strong teamwork which can take a variety of forms.

In the area of social justice and political change the group RESULTS sets the standard for grass roots advocacy. Its purpose is to end poverty by “improving access to education, health, and economic opportunity” through advocacy and education of policy makers.

More recently “Indivisible” groups are forming and beginning to take action in many communities throughout the United States. Their purpose is to create local pressure on members of Congress to counter the most destructive policies and actions of the new administration, and even at this early date it appears that they are beginning to have some success.

Indivisible’s advocacy is based “…on a simple idea: Donald Trump’s agenda doesn’t depend on Donald Trump. It depends on your elected members of Congress and whether they go along with him—or whether they fight back.”

If any or all of these approaches are appealing, I encourage you to get involved.

Remember:

• that demagogues win when citizens feel overwhelmed and become resigned to the status quo, and

• that together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone.

Remembering Rick DuFour

Like hundreds of others, I have been following the hopes and disappointments Rick expressed over many months in his Caring Bridge updates.

And although recently the end appeared inevitable and merciful, I was deeply saddened when it occurred last week.

Three attributes come to mind when I think of Rick.

Tenacity. Against the illness that eventually took his life. In promoting ideas and practices that would benefit tens if not hundreds of thousands of teachers, administrators, and students around the world.

Engagement. In study and writing. In pursuit of excellence in all parts of his life. With Professional Learning Community colleagues and “students.” With Adlai Stevenson High School District 125. With Learning Forward (which was known as the National Staff Development Council when I first came to know Rick more than 25 years ago). With those with whom he shared the travails of his illness and treatment as he proved a steadfast and honest correspondent from a land he had not hoped to visit.

Love. For Becky and for his family and friends. For his work in all its manifestations.

I have heard it said that each of us dies three times—when our bodies lose their life force, when our physical manifestation is interred, and when our names are no longer spoken.

While Rick’s physical presence is no longer with us, his name will be passed down among generations of educators as an idea or practice is explained or his spirit is evoked as an exemplar of what we individually and collectively hope to become.

What do you do when your leader is a dem•a•gogue?

dem·a·gogue\ˈde-mə-ˌgäg\noun: a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason

What do you do when your leader deliberately provokes the worst instincts in his followers?

What do you do when most people don’t want that person to be the leader, but nonetheless he or she is?

What do you do when you are anxious and fearful for the future of your “organization” and what it stands for?

What do you do to preserve your emotional well-being and even physical health when it is challenged by the consequences of such leadership?

The answer to these and related questions are obviously not simple ones.

And while I don’t have “the answer,” I offer the “6 Cs of resilience” to stimulate your thinking and perhaps guide your actions:

Clarity about values, ideas, goals, and strategies to accomplish those goals;

Commitment to persist through difficult times;

Communication that seeks first to understand and that is both respectful and assertive;

Community to gain clarity, support, guidance, inspiration, and the power of collective action;

Courage to do what is uncomfortable and even frightening; and

Care, beginning with self care. (If we don’t take care of ourselves the other Cs will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.)

Taken together, the “6Cs” enable us to take well-considered stands about things that are important to us and to join with others to achieve together what we cannot accomplish alone.

Should you find yourself with a leader who is a demagogue, what will you do to promote your own well-being and the resilience of the “organization”?


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