In my last post I wrote about how educational leadership at each level has much to share and to learn from educational dialogues at other levels. Importantly, invigorating the conversations between educational leaders at each level is vital to move education forward in the most effective ways possible.
But there is more…
If creating dialogue between educational leaders—college presidents, superintendents, head of schools, and others is not hard enough, we also need to push ourselves to learn beyond the normal boundaries of education toward other professions and businesses. I wrote about this several years ago (December 2016) for The Head’s Letter:
I was asked during an interview recently about the best way to maintain a school’s competitive edge. My answer boiled down to this: “Seek connection with and inspiration from fields other than education.” While we shouldn’t neglect opportunities to learn from each other in education, we also must broaden our horizons in order to push our thinking beyond the parameters of our current conversations about curriculum and culture within our schools.
The idea that we should learn from professions, businesses, and projects outside of education is not new, but I believe it is largely neglected, particularly as we seek blue ocean strategies to separate our individual schools from the crowd. My thinking in this area has evolved from a concept I call “progress culture.” In brief, the goal of a progress culture is to create an environment where there is a widely held priority in the school community to reflect on and respond to a changing world. If we can help create a generation that will lead the world ethically, morally, entrepreneurially, and passionately, we must be willing to reimagine the means by which we strive to accomplish that goal.
Whittled down to its core, a progress culture:
- Always makes what is best for students the alpha and omega of the conversation.
- Asks hard questions about why we do what we do in the context of the specific strategic vision of the school.
- Is resolute in building the best answers to those questions into the fabric of the school.
- Is thoughtful in defining what progress is. In other words, a progress culture keeps a keen eye on what should never change in the school.
Placed in this context, the idea that we need to seek inspiration not simply from other educators becomes intuitive, particularly in a moment when our conversation within independent schools can feel like an echo chamber where we volley an esoteric vocabulary for the initiated back and forth without moving the needle far enough to improve learning.
With all this in mind, the other day I went back to a book that impacted me when it first came out in 2011 by John Maeda called Redesigning Leadership. If given the choice, I turn to creative people for guidance and for ways to conceptualize complexity. Somehow artists, architects, poets, graphic designers, musicians communicate avenues of understanding that we miss as we navigate the routines of our daily lives. Maeda guides all of us (and particularly in this book, those in leadership positions) toward simplicity in addressing our world where complexity can both beguile and overwhelm us.
After I complete my re-read of Redesigning Leadership, I will likely write some more on this topic. Stay tuned.
(As food for thought for school leaders who often resist the muddiness of change processes, Maeda says this toward the beginning of Chapter Two: “A creative leader is someone who leads with dirty hands, much the way an artist’s hands are often literally dirty with paint.”)