You have chosen to lead at what is, certainly, one of the most difficult times in the history of public education in the country. Why? What called you, from among all the teachers in your schools, to step up and volunteer? We hear leaders in conversations expressing cynicism, and fear and resentment but this is not a role into which we are assigned. As leaders, we raised our hands; we offered to serve. The call to lead is a lifelong journey we chose to take with others. Sometimes we call them followers but, in a true sense, they are companions. That is, if we stay in one place long enough and if we want others to join with us.
After your preparation and stepping out to acknowledge you’d like to lead, someone hired you because of what they saw in you. Now, you have experience. You are seen by others as a leader. Along the way, what have you learned about yourself and about the work? One quality that differentiates leaders is this willingness to learn about themselves as well as the work. If change and growth co-exist in our work, so must they within us. Leadership requires reflection.
As a nation, Americans are a hopeful people. It comes from our immigrant roots and explains why immigrants still come here. We are the land of opportunity. We want a return of hope and optimism in this land. Our schools are critically linked to this national identity. It is hope that causes parents to send their children to school. They dream of all their children can become. We create hopeful futures. Yes, our success is measured by performance on tests today but our work is the future.
Policy makers fear that we have or will fail. This fear has defined our current reality. They call upon us to restore the competitive edge for the nation. It may not be fair but it is fact. The only answer now is that educational leaders must emerge who can speak from their heart not as a political motivation facing a budget vote but because it is the place where they live. It is the passion of a calling to lead in troubled times. New voices must emerge in advocacy. Your vision for a future must compel us to join you in action. If you once learned to silence your voice, you must now exercise it and find the words to express our purpose.
Warren Bennis, the ultimate sage on matters of leadership, writes about the skills and qualities the next generation of leaders needs to possess and demonstrate. Among them are curiosity, risk taking, commitment to excellence and broad knowledge, and devotion to long-term growth. When combined with others, like boundless enthusiasm, contagious optimism, empathy, authenticity, belief in people and integrity, they become descriptors of those who lead from the heart.
These leaders must find their place and use their voice. The fearful, the cynical and the merely compliant ought not to be in leadership roles. They need to step aside. The moment is too critical and the stakes are too high. If this is your destiny and if education is your field, then you must be the ones. It is upon you, the emerging generation of leaders, to take the reins, and, yes, to call the elders in when we have wisdom to offer. But do not let yourselves be constrained by the glory of an existing system that has accomplished much. Take us forward and be creative on behalf of children who are coming to us from the new digital age and without the structures that limited possibilities in the past.
Public educational systems must be reinvented in this century. It is our hope that it will be done by those who lead from the heart. Then it will be done for the right reasons. We can follow you and children will benefit with brilliant futures. We are part of a new era two decades into a new century. We are between seasons now. The season of Thanksgiving gives way into the season of hope and of light. In many ways, the world in the next few weeks sees with our eyes. Every day school leaders search for the light in the child’s eyes, the one that turns on from the inside and radiates everywhere. It sets our hearts on fire. We hear the small voices express dreams and wishes all year long. They lift us up to do and be our very best. When we and you volunteered to lead, we responded to a calling within and received the gift of touching lives. It is a profound responsibility and it brings great joy. Let us as older ones encourage those who follow as leaders. Remember never to let hope down, especially right now. Extinguishing light and hope is easy. Some do it and never even notice. Our work is hard. Every child needs someone to see the light in them and sustain the hope they hold in their hearts. You lead schools where that can happen.
Photo by geralt courtesy of Pixabay
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.