How do educational leaders keep improving our schools to recognize unique opportunities and needs at the forefront? With collaboration.

Educational leaders must leverage collaboration for success

How do leaders keep improving our schools to recognize unique opportunities and needs at the forefront? 

Key points:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) calculated global economic output loss will total $28 trillion dollars between 2020 and 2025 as the result of the COVID-19 virus that impacted businesses and education. Our schools are still pivoting to serve students and families who are figuring out life in the space of no longer and not yet.

The pandemic has changed us all.

Nonetheless, success in education is about developing people—on every level.

Even though we do not know exactly what the future holds, we can recognize that leaders who make a difference see opportunity in challenges.  We can lean into applying this paradigm to our educational systems.

This begs the questions: How do educational leaders keep improving our schools to recognize unique opportunities and needs at the forefront?  What situations can bring adaptive capacity to education?

Upon reflections, with a 20-year career as an educator and scholar, I’m asserting a simple response: collaboration and mentorship.  This requires a cognizance, commitment, and humility from all of us.

Setting the stage for innovation

Schools shape everyone and the memories endure a lifetime.  

We recognize how strong school leadership means we are exploring and adapting with others for a better future—and that includes valuing the collective diversity of ideas to set the stage for innovation in educative spaces.

After all, to lead effectively, we must create and honor safe spaces for collaboration.  Because when it comes to spaces with uncertainty and high challenges, people are often reluctant to express thoughts or potential actions.  We must suspend judgments to learn more from the people around us. 

Ultimately, the more often that educational leaders anticipate and promote change and input, the more effective will become the results—which brings out the best in our teachers’ abilities and talents.   

Avoiding fool’s gold

With practices that make a difference, teachers (and students) want to “listen, learn, lead” from authentic leaders who care about lifting others up and excelling in uncertain spaces.  Although 83 percent of organizations assert that developing future leaders and mentoring are crucial aspects, research shows only 5 percent of organizations have leadership development programs at all levels (Kizer, 2023).  The work of leaders is not to keep resources or power for themselves—but to share it and give it away.

Now, more than ever, educational leaders must highlight and affirm teachers’ talents and skills to deliver more than what they thought was possible.  The classroom is a space where teachers know that “one-size-fits-none” and where they need support from leaders and community to adapt curriculum. 

A scholar from the thirteenth century, Rumi, expressed that “Fool’s gold exists because there is real gold.”  This sentiment could address leadership in education.  We must differentiate between effective leadership and ineffective leadership.  Authentic leaders demonstrate self-awareness and competence in that all members are included to act with purpose and empowerment. 

Mentoring is one important strategy to let people connect and reflect, and it works as a two-way street for colleagues to support each other.  Genuine acts of caring and collaboration, such as a handwritten note of encouragement or visiting colleagues, are other ways to uplift a person’s spirits.  In other words, leaders recognize unique opportunities to connect and draw people forward.

 And leaders know that meaningful change takes more than one person to reach the next level. 

Humility wins, paradoxically

To illuminate on collaboration a bit further, I’d like to share one more important piece of fascinating information.  

In education, as in life, we must take the time to find strengths in each person.  Why? Because there is nothing more rewarding than helping others discover their unique strengths.  CliftonStrengths Assessment is one resource to find out what you (or another person) have as greatest strengths that sets you apart from everyone else.   It is important to leverage each other’s strengths, so the sum is greater than the parts! 

In this space of no longer and not yet, honest discussions are necessary to explore the space of where others are along the journey.  Career paths differ, and there are different seasons in our careers.  Most notably, in a study where mentors underestimated their abilities, these humble mentors were given the absolute highest ratings by the mentees (Johnson, 2016, p. 68).  Lesson learned: The best leaders were the ones who had self-awareness and humility.  These guides offered the highest-quality relationships and the most effective facilitation of a person’s development.

Finding hope and purpose within ourselves

Harvard Business School states, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Collective vision holds the dream of flourishing individuals and communities, as we need both for society to function well.

In particular, leadership success includes mobilizing colleagues to believe in and achieve their goals. When it comes down to it, every person has a role in contributing to playing big in uncertain times.

We must start seeing our educators as our community leaders, which they already are in many ways.  Remember the words of John Maxwell (2008) that we should “Never work alone.  I know that sounds too simple, but it is truly the secret to developing others. Whenever you do anything that you want to pass along to others, take someone with you” (p.16). Agreed, engaging others is how to pass down important information and practices.  Strong relationships and common experiences create winning teams.  Moreover, committed teams go places that no one has been before. 

To conclude, educators should have more collaborative supports and leadership opportunities since they are the experts on what is working (or not) in this fast-paced world.  Success will come.  When we cross a worthy finish line, the anguish vanishes.  Deep inner satisfaction replaces the time of hardships, because we have made the world a better place.  Educators know a simple truth: When we lead others, we facilitate that others can find hope and purpose within themselves.

Because without hope, we would not find the courage that is needed when we are grappling in the space of no longer and not yet.

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