Education Opinion

Leading Our Schools: Two Lessons From Apple’s Angela Ahrendts

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — November 03, 2013 3 min read
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Recently, Apple appointed Angela Ahrendts as Senior Vice President of Retail. We find this an interesting, post Jobs move. Apple has long been dedicated to the customer experience as an essential element of their business. Their stores all have identical products and layouts are identical (if not physically, at least conceptually). Customers are greeted the same up-beat manner, routines are standard, classes are available, help is within reach, no question is too simple nor too difficult. An Apple Store is recognizable anywhere. For most, it is an exciting and welcoming place. Their online experience has been successful enough that many feel comfortable spending thousands of dollars without even entering a store. Customers are happy and the market share is strong. But Apple’s competitive position in the market and its record of innovation continue. Enter Angela Ahrendts.

What did Angela Ahrendts do, think, believe, that made Apple reach out to her and hire her as the only woman on Apple’s senior management team? How does she make the shift from retail fashion to technology? And what does that mean, if anything, to us as educators? We think there is real relevance here! Our schools all have an increasingly identical “product”, education, school buildings are pretty similar across the country, we have the country’s youth as our “customers”, and we want our schools to be both exciting, welcoming and current.

Social Media
Ahrendts understands the role of the social media platform. She understands that she (we) grew up in a ‘physical world’ and speak the language of our parents, in our case, ‘English.’ This next generation, the one we currently teach, is growing up in a ‘digital world,’ and they speak ‘social.’ In this 3:54 minute video, she describes the world in which our students live and will be working.

It may seem futuristic to you, but it is not. It is here, now, and whether we are living in it or not, it is no longer an Orwellian abstract future. It is the world of our students. We have had the luxury of preparing students to enter a world we knew, one in which we were wise and skilled. Now, too many of us are strangers in the land that is the future for our youth.

Transformational Energy
The next lesson we think may be learned from Ahrendts is about leading with and through transformational energy. We, too, need that now. When we most need to muster energy in the work of responses and leading through this minefield of our workplaces we find ourselves beset with contentiousness. Local disagreements about reading programs or math methods have been replaced by charged arguments about state and national decisions regarding the Common Core Standards and assessment for accountability and funding. We haven’t yet reached the tipping point when we reach a nexus of understanding and find agreement on purposeful direction and action.

We may be able to get there sooner if we consider what Ahrendts believes about positive energy. To transform fear, distrust and uncertainty requires the generation of collective positive energy. She believes it is essential to, "...remove individual barriers and individual idiosyncrasies to unite groups of people to focus on what is best for the greater good of the whole. When you do this it creates a safe environment...” In this 13:54 minute Tedx talk, Ahrendts explains her belief about the power of positive energy.

We are not the only profession being besieged with negativity, disagreement, and anxiety. It seems to be the state of the world today. We are simply one part of this world engaged in grinding gears, building boundaries, captured by disagreement and fear. These times easily pull our attention into the fight and away from the work to which we are committed within our schools. Battles are consuming. It is a challenge to draw away from the fight and balance our time between our students and our fight. We think Angela Ahrendts is on to something worth consideration. If you can make the time to watch these two videos, we think it will offer a thought, a vision, a direction that can make the path out of our maelstrom a bit clearer.


Five things to know about Angela Ahrendts

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.