Posts Tagged 'resilience'

The essential qualities of effective leadership

In recent weeks I have been thinking more deeply about effective leadership to determine if my views should be revised given the recent presidential election.

First, my definition of “effective leaders“: Effective leaders achieve the organization’s goals while strengthening the organization and the relationships within it for future work.

Whether we are thinking about the President of the United States or the person who is one level above us in the hierarchy of our workplace, I believe that effective leaders:

• Create with others a shared, compelling vision of a desired future

• Generate and help spread positive emotions

• Make decisions based on sound evidence and reasoning

• Are open to being persuaded by the views of others

• Treat others with respect

• Are exemplars of how they want others to think and act

• Have integrity, particularly in telling the truth and keeping promises

• Adapt to changing circumstances while staying true to core values and principles

What would you add to or subtract from my list? 

Are all of these attributes essential, or are some so much more important than others that a leader and organization will fail without them?

Making a positive difference, alone and together

re·sil·ience\ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ noun: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after misfortune or disruptive change

Several terms come to mind when I think of “resilience.”








All of these words apply to the human desire to affect our own destiny and to make the world a better place. In short, to make a positive difference.

Life circumstances, which we may or may not choose, contribute to our sense of resilience and also draw upon it.

Resilient people are:

optimistic and efficacious. That is, they are hopeful about the future and believe that they can make a difference.

intentional and proactive. That is, they have clear goals and realistic plans to achieve them.

engaged and influential. That is, they persist until goals are achieved, and they enlist others in concerted actions.

Taken together, these qualities explain why resilient people often find themselves in leadership roles even though they may not have actively sought them out.

Resilient leaders create resilient organizations, and the primary way they do so is by creating a sense of “collective efficacy”– a belief that the achievement of important goals requires strong teamwork.

Collective efficacy begins with a worthy, stretching goal and draws on the interpersonal support provided by a community whose members encourage, guide, and teach one another.

Collective efficacy is especially important today because it is easy to succumb to resignation in the face of complex and overwhelming world problems, like climate change, and the serious challenges to democratic institutions and civil liberties that we currently face.

Future posts will explore ways to cultivate resilience for our personal benefit and our collective good.

As always, I am interested in what you have to say today and in the future about this critically important subject.

Cultivating resilience…

re·sil·ience\ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ noun: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after misfortune or disruptive change 

Since the inception of this blog in 2010 I have written more than 300 posts that have focused on ideas and practices related to teaching, school leadership, teamwork, professional learning, and cultures of continuous improvement.

While these topics remain important, I have basically said what I have to say about them, at least for the time being.

Recently, I have been been thinking about whether American values and this country’s political and civic institutions, including public education as we know it, are sufficiently robust to effectively respond to the unprecedented and unpredictable challenges they are likely to endure in coming years.

That led me to reflect on people and institutions that encounter adversity but are somehow strengthened through their experiences, emerging from them with newfound capacities and resourcefulness.

Such resilience can be found in people of all ages and walks of life and in organizations that serve many different purposes.

For the foreseeable future I will use this blog to seek a better understanding of individual and collective resilience and the ways in which it can be cultivated and applied in our personal and professional lives and in civic engagement.

As always, I look forward to your comments….


Bob Garmston explains why emotions are an inseparable part of learning

Dennis Sparks

In my previous post I discussed the two primary “lessons” I had drawn from Bob Garmston’s memoir, I Don’t Do That Anymore: A Memoir of Awakening and Resilience.

For this post I asked Bob to comment on or extend those lessons. Here is his response:

I asked my wife what other lessons might be embedded in my story. “I don’t know. It’s your life,” she smiled. Then, with a mischievous glance she said, “Maybe it’s all about family. What is important is to love and be loved. ” She smiled when she said that because we both know I knew nothing about family as a child and through Sue’s efforts I have been privileged to learn about it, experience it, value and yearn for it.

Lesson #3: Emotions are an inseparable part of learning. 

In my first year of teaching I made home visits to each of the 42 5th grade children in my charge. Knowing nothing of time management those early visits lasted 3 to 4 hours each. In later years I learned to visit effectively within the space of about an hour. Each individual child came alive for me in ways not possible without the visits, and each student knew that he or she was special and important to me.

From  a nearby teacher I adopted the practice of learning journals, a composition book in which children would write about what they learned that day. I would dutifully collect these, read and respond.  Often their learnings were about social interactions with others, friendships, hurts, accomplishments.

I was not to know the pedagogical importance of these teaching practices till much later when others brought the ideas of emotional intelligence to our consciousness. Daniel Goleman described this as being aware of our feelings and handling disruptive emotions well, empathizing with how others feel, and being skillful in handling our relationships. These are crucial abilities for effective living.

In my own naïve and exploratory way I was helping students understand, express, and deal with their feelings. Today’s teachers know far more about learning, teaching, emotional climates and supportive environments that I ever dreamed in 1959. They are also more stressed, have more external demands, and compared with my era, have more constraints and limitations on teaching choices. The students, too, live in a different world then when I entered teaching.

My plea to teachers and administrators is to teach as if emotions and learning are inextricably mixed – for they are.  When we allow time for the expression of student’s inner lives we help create safe learning environments where students can take risks, develop confidence, and grow emotionally and academically.

By the way –Lemons to Lemonade: Resolving Problems in Meetings, Workshops and PLCs is my latest – it just came out this June before Dennis drafted this piece.

— Bob  Garmston

What Bob Garmston’s memoir teaches us about resilience and life-long growth


Given the demands of teaching and school leadership, my goal has been to keep these essays as brief as possible.

Today I alter that pattern to pay tribute to Bob Garmston, a wonderful human being and educator, and to acknowledge the hard-won lessons his life reveals, many of which are particularly important to educators.

This summer I spent some “enjoyable” hours reading what as far as I know is Bob’s newest book , I Don’t Do That Anymore: A Memoir of Awakening and Resilience. I added quotation marks around enjoyable because reading about Bob’s often painful life, particularly his early years, was, well, painful. And the book was painful, too, because at least some of his experiences were similar to my own.

If you don’t know Bob personally, you may still know him through his books on Cognitive Coaching (with Art Costa) and Adaptive Schools (with Bruce Wellman) or experienced him as a teacher in any of the countless workshops he has conducted over the past 30 years. And I hope you will come to know Bob in new ways through I Don’t Do That Anymore.

My first memory of Bob is from the early 1980s at a mountaintop learning event at the northern California home of Jane Stallings. We both spent some time working with a small group of principals whom Jane had gathered together.

What I didn’t know then was the challenges of his early life and how his life had been shaped by a handful of significant adults, persistent hard work on Bob’s part, and good luck, which is summed up in the phrase “awakening and resilience” found in his memoir’s subtitle.

Those challenges included five years in a Salvation Army home for troubled children, encounters with “dangerous adults,” and placements with relatives and a foster family.

Bob wrote: “Most children, even those from an extraordinarily stressed family or resource-deprived community, somehow manage to make decent lives for themselves. According to experts, as many as seven out of ten kids from populations at greater risk have managed to achieve decent lives by the time they are 40.

Bob added: “One didn’t have to grow up in a children’s home to experience some sense of distress. Most of the people we meet have a story behind the faces they present.”

Bob formed positive relationships with a teacher, a school nurse, a social worker, and with his foster father (who many years later adopted him when Bob was 60). “The adult influences in my life . . ., he wrote, “turned me toward a totally different direction than the one in which I was headed.” About these relationships he concluded, “I got a lot of breaks because I could be emotionally available to adults.”

Of the social worker Bob wrote: “Marabel and I talked many times in her small office. She was interested in what I had to say and challenged my thinking, asking provocative questions. She was also interesting herself. She like me even when I caused problems, and when when I got into trouble, I knew Marabel would talk to me about it without judging me and would me consider alternative choices. She listened to my anger about my parents and absorbed the loneliness I felt.”

From his foster father, King Hart, Bob learned “. . . what it meant to be an honorable and courageous human being.”

Two significant lessons emerge from Bob’s memoir:

Adults can have lifelong influence on young people, for good or for ill.

Often a kind word or gesture from an adult can make a substantial positive difference to a vulnerable young person. The consequences of those influences may never be known to those adults, but their consequences can be significant and lasting.

Profound learning and development can occur throughout the live span.

Of his later years, Bob observed: “Hindsight suggests what research is now bearing out, that prefrontal cortex—instrument of empathy, attunement, social connections, emotions and author of a narrative about one’s life can be developed even into adulthood. Experiences with early caregivers shape this part of the brain. I was catching up to what was probably missed as an infant.”

Bob’s memoir might have been subtitled, “Growing older, or older and growing?,” to borrow the title of a speech I once heard psychologist Carl Rogers give. I Don’t Do That Anymore provides a definitive answer to that question—older and growing, at least for those wiling to make the effort to do so.

(In my next post Bob Garmston will offer a “commentary” on the lessons that can be drawn from his life.)

In your experience, what are the sources of human resilience? What factors offer hope for young people whose lives are severely stressed and challenged?

Creating school communities in which everyone is known and valued

Dennis Sparks

In a blog post about Steve Jobs’ pursuit of excellence, which included a thorough understanding of his customers, Jim Knight writes, “. . . like Jobs, teachers can strive to have a deep understanding of their students’ hopes, fears, and expectations.

To that end, Knight suggests that teachers ask questions of students, and his post provides lists of possible questions based on grade level.

In my experience, people want to be known for who they are, no matter their age. That is true across the generations.

Hospice patients tell me that they want their grandchildren and even generations yet unborn to know who they were as people. Children also want to be known for who they are, for their interests and strengths, and for their overall uniqueness.

Teachers are more likely to make the effort to get to know all of their students and their families, I believe, when they feel known and valued within their school communities.

Creating school cultures in which everyone feels known and appreciated for who they are is therefore a primary responsibility of principals and teacher leaders.

The leader’s role in creating resilient schools

Dennis Sparks

The January 7, 2013 issue of the New Yorker features an article (“Adaptation”) about ways that cities can adapt to climate change (unfortunately, the article is not available without a subscription). The solutions fall into two broad categories.

• “Climate proof cities” – restore wetlands; upgrade infrastructure related to power, transportation, and communication; and build gates and other barriers.

• Cultivate human resilience in the face of an adversity that will be with us for the foreseeable future.

As an example of such resilience the story describes two adjacent “hyper-segregated” communities in Chicago during a 1995 heatwave that killed 739 residents of the city.

While the communities had similar demographics, one had 33 deaths per hundred thousand residents while the other had three per thousand, which made it far safer that even most of the affluent neighborhoods in the city.

Various studies illuminated the source of this resilience in the safer neighborhood and in other settings and, as result, “. . . governments and disaster planners are recognizing the importance of social infrastructure: the people, places, and institutions that foster cohesion and support,” Eric Klinenberg, the article’s author, notes.

Resilience is also a hallmark of successful schools, particularly those that serve students in communities challenged by high levels of poverty and unimaginable tragedies.

Social networks and connections are of universal value, but they take on even greater importance when organizations are stressed.

Consequently, a major responsibility of leaders is developing school cultures that enhance the relationship-based resilience already found within schools and in their surrounding neighborhoods.

To that end, successful principals and teacher leaders promote a sense of common purpose and mutual support within classrooms and schools, form strong bonds with families and community organizations, and create or strengthen already existing teacher teams and networks.

The results of such efforts, carefully nurtured over time, prepare school communities for both anticipated challenges and the unexpected events that can affect all schools without warning.

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