By Scott Barron, School Growth
That’s the bumper sticker that would aptly describe the unpredictable events and situations educators face daily. Most of us do this work because we love learning and inspiring others on their journey. But a school is a fragile and complex ecosystem of relationships that requires an unusual capacity for love, grace, and forgiveness.
In the current climate, educators are tired — tired of the conflict, confusion, distractions, and hectic pace. As a result, educational leaders are finding it harder and harder to fill vacant teaching and staff positions. Meanwhile the school year is unrelenting in its deadlines and expectations. Teachers are forced to cover classes when substitutes can’t be found, sacrificing planning and preparation time. Respect for educators continues to wane as the court of public opinion, expressed on social media and other platforms, questions the integrity and acumen of the very people who seek to serve them. The consequences of this pressure are real.
“Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.”– G.K. Chesterton
“Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.”
– G.K. Chesterton
As educators, we have made a commitment to the one profession that can most change the world. Our talents and influence can inspire others to love learning, find joy in relationships, and pursue a life of purpose and serenity. But we can’t give what we don’t have.
Our testimony can either energize our peers and pupils or crush curiosity and the will to grow. We are more than just dispensers of curriculum; we are enablers of dreams! Realizing this special power makes it vital that we constantly develop a wisdom and courage — both personally and organizationally — that are profoundly enduring. Excellent schools are never an accident. They are the result of intelligent discipline combined with a relentless determination to love and lead.
John: A Case Study in Transformation
Having walked with hundreds of educators on their journey, I have witnessed remarkable transformation when they choose the path of serenity in school leadership. John is a good example of a school head who discovered the true benefits of choosing serenity over chaos.
Back in the spring of 2020, John’s stress levels were off the charts and were causing physical distress. The new coronavirus pandemic was creating major changes, piling on top of the problems that already existed. Frustrated with what they felt was a lack of leadership and growth, members of the board were becoming more demanding and more involved in the details. Tensions among the faculty had also risen as they sensed the confusion and dysfunction. Enrollment had progressively declined over the last several years, and the culture of the school was not healthy. The data and feedback showed multiple contributing factors:
At the leadership planning retreat that summer, the board and administration gained great clarity on the issues because the data was undeniable. It was painful but necessary to accurately know where the school was, how it got in this position, where the collective leadership wanted to go, and how to measure progress and success. The message was clear: “Let’s Go!”
“You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.”—John Steinbeck
Everyone could sense John’s body language. Facing these daunting expectations, he realized that a different approach was needed. Otherwise, neither he nor the school was going to survive.
Rather than return to the same tools and techniques that got them to this point, he chose to pause and remember why he became a leader of educators in the first place. John was a highly gifted teacher who loved to pour into and inspire others. He had a genuine passion for this work but had failed to adapt to the leadership demands of being a head. This required a much higher level of communication, relationship building, conflict resolution, strategic planning, and talent management, among other demands.
The transformation John experienced was fascinating. He and his team developed a rhythm of leadership with a high level of follow-up and follow-through on the assigned activities and goals. The faculty and families could quickly see that something was different. They could feel the energy generated from the progress and confidence. Even during the pressure of the pandemic, John dug down deep to muster the courage and commitment to have difficult conversations and create a culture of accountability in an attitude of love. Enrollment and fundraising exceeded their goals, as did the other measurements for success that were established. The quality and engagement of the faculty made significant progress with a unified understanding of their core values and expectations for performance. The culture of the school reflected a high level of clarity and cohesiveness. John grew to become an administrative leader that his faculty and families trusted, and he regained the confidence of the board and key partners. The investments made in professional development and leadership mentoring produced a more unified team, moving beyond the limitations that previously existed to progress on the journey to authentic, sustainable excellence.
Witnessing this type of personal and organizational transformation is one of the greatest rewards of this work. It wasn’t the easiest path, but it was the one that offered the highest quality of life and fulfillment.
“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.”– Georg C. Lichtenburg
Highly effective educators are committed to this work not because it’s easy, but because it matters! Navigating through difficult circumstances that feel overwhelming is part of life, but we know that leadership and growth happen only through courageous vision and perseverance through difficult times and hard things. We refuse to cower to the disparagement and dysfunction that relentlessly seek to discourage us. Even in the midst of managing through a pandemic, resolving conflict, and making difficult decisions, we have the courage and the determination to inspire our colleagues and students to unity in purpose and a culture of deep trust. That requires a delicate balance between having a thick skin while also remaining sensitive to the needs of our people.
The good news is that serenity in school leadership is neither an oxymoron nor a myth. It is possible for authentic, resilient, and courageous educators who are disciplined in action, humble in spirit, and consistent in love.
After serving as the head of three independent schools, Scott Barron founded School Growth, LLC. He serves as the chief reinvention officer and is the executive director of Educators Fellowship. His career includes experience as an educator, entrepreneur, and author, with a particular focus on advocating for and encouraging educators in their calling. Over the last decade, School Growth has delivered training, planning, and support services to schools around the world, helping them love and lead educators more effectively.
Join Scott and other experts in the field at the SAIS Summer Conference, June 27-29 in Atlanta.
In this recording, we joined SAIS President Debra Wilson for the new Trustee Education Series focused on best practices in independent school governance, including boundaries, confidentiality, committee structure, and more. The curriculum is designed for heads of school, board chairs, and trustees.