School Climate & Safety Opinion

Leaders’ Journey From Stressed and Oppressed to Creative and Energized

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 03, 2016 4 min read
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The working lives of educators must shift from being stressed and oppressed to being creative and energized. Especially in the beginning, this will be tough, daily work. It will involve both an inner and outer world process. Therefore it must be done alone and also with others, in the private moments when we listen to our hearts and make choices and in the public moments when set out a path and ask others to join us. Of course, we need supportive places. Resources help. Courage matters. But, for many it is as simple as saying, “I can’t live like this anymore. And, I can’t ask others to do so either.” Then the life altering question follows. Do I succumb and give up my dreams and vision and calling, do I leave the school or district or education all together, or do I make new choices, whatever happens?

Four Reservoirs that Energize
For those who stay to make the positive difference as a leader, four reservoirs become critical as they move into the creation of new learning environments: knowledge of 21st century learning, learners and possibilities, skill to lead non-mandated change, skills and capacity for coalition building, and passion for leading learning environments. (Myers & Berkowicz. p. 59)

Then, it becomes a matter of gathering the ensemble. The superintendent finds the administrators, teachers, parents, community members, and students who contribute to one of the four reservoirs. Together they begin the process of modeling a new way of interacting, of leading and leaning. They practice and learn together as they become more and more confident and excited about the future they are creating. Over time, more want to join in. Gruenert and Whitaker state in their book, School Culture Rewired, “Leadership is everything. Everything that happens in an organization reflects the leadership” (p.162). The opposite is true as well. The leader is reflected in everything that happens in the organization. Accepting that premise, the stress felt through the organization most likely exists in the leaders and is affected by the actions of the leaders.

How Shifting the System Can Become the Antidote to Stress
This century has given rise to the increasingly popularized initiative called STEM. Fortunately, the term has captured the attention of government, business and higher education and motivated them to become interested partners in a new educational landscape. Unfortunately, many have come to understand the term to mean an emphasis on the four subjects of science, technology, engineering and math for more students. It seems like yet another tinkering and can easily be ignored or misapplied. But take a deeper look. In his landmark book, Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art, Arthur I. Miller writes,

Today, the amount of knowledge is comparatively huge, bogged down with highly specialized, complex subjects. In order to take the first steps...we need to look into our education system, to see how subjects are taught and can be brought together...The most focused trend toward interdisciplinarity is still within the sciences, where departments with hybrid titles like “engineering sciences” are beginning to take root...Eventually specialist areas will disappear and be absorbed into a larger framework with over-arching principles. As a result there will simply be less to learn (pp. 346-347).

We can begin to see a framework that is less siloed and more integrated. Miller questions, “Are we witnessing the birth not just of a new art movement but of a whole new culture--a third culture--in which art, science, and technology will fuse?” (p. 342). Consider a leader who gathers the skillful and passionate members of the ensemble and speaks to a new design, a system that is generative. The first questions to ask might be:

  • What do we believe 21st century school systems look like?
  • Where can we see some in action?
  • What do we believe about teaching and learning?
  • How can schools better reflect the world within which students are already living and will be working as adults?
  • How can schools become places where students are invited to question, inquire, learn at the side of professionals, and solve real problems?
  • How can schools truly become learning organizations where teachers and student alike are learners?
  • Are there places in the system that are more ready than others to move in a new direction?
  • How can we best communicate to the rest of the organization and community?

Mending a broken system or incrementally improving an archaic one is not inspirational work. Both demand staying with the original, making little space for creativity. It is innovation that excites workplaces. Relevance engages students and energizes partnerships. Learning and changing can be exciting. Since the tinkering hasn’t worked, don’t you think it’s worth a try to begin something bold?

Gruenert, S. & Whitaker T. (2015). School Culture Rewired: How to define, assess, and transform it. Alexandria, Va.:ASCD
Miller, A. (2014). Colliding Worlds: How cutting -edge science is redefining contemporary art. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.
Myers, A. & Berkowicz, J. (2015). The STEM Shift: A guide for school leaders. Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Corwin

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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.