Two Ingredients To Start

I had an email exchange with a teacher a couple weeks ago that left me blown away. I have to say it’s one of my favorite emails in quite some time (is that even a thing?). So here’s the context – A small but significant department within our school is needing to find a successor for the long-time leader as she is retiring.  And a veteran teacher within the group wrote to me this week with the intention of advocating for a candidate.  However, what she did was two-fold as she illustrated for me her influence as a leader as well as inspiring me around the idea of what makes a great teacher.  Check it out:

I struggle with where to go from here other than “C’mon! Does it get any better than that?” Those are the building blocks, the ingredients needed to be an effective teacher. 

The first descriptor aligns with the notion that relationships and connection must be present for any significant learning to occur.  And that when that relationship begins with the idea that you are coming from a good place, that you simply extend kindness, then so many doors are opened.

The second descriptor touches on the idea that we must work hard at being good.  We can’t just hope to be better, we can’t pray to be better, and we can’t wish we were better.  We have to reflect today on what can make us stronger tomorrow. And not just to improve our practice – she goes on to say AND improve student results.

Finally, she is 100% on the money in that everything else builds off those two elements.  When I look to hire a new teacher, someone with little to no experience, then I have often focused on whether they like kids and if they know their content.  My thought has always been that we can build effective strategies and develop you.  However, this leads me to understand that it’s not as complex as I thought.  This teacher simplified it.Colin Powell QuoteEach time I read this quote from Colin Powell, I find myself drawn to the idea of how a leader can hear many different ideas and narrow down the focus to a simple idea or two.  I work hard on this trait as a campus leader myself – sometimes with a focus on a solution and other times only on finding common agreement.

This teacher may not hold a specific title or role within her department, her campus, or her district.  Yet she is a leader and she has influence.  I know I am changed.

I wrote a few years ago reflecting on the Drew Dudley TED Talk regarding Everyday Leadership Who Doesn’t Like a Lollipop?  A major element in that piece is the idea that sometimes we reserve calling someone a leader until they have done something publicly remarkable.  And he argues that, instead, it is many smaller acts that define a leader.  This email illustrates that idea for me. And while I’m happy to enjoy this new idea of what makes a great teacher, I’m most energized by the notion that another leader has emerged on campus.  As that will serve all of us well. 

How are you ensuring that you do not miss those small comments, conversations, or constructs that could lead to moments of simplification – inspiration? Are you actively listening for those small nuggets, those ingredients that can make something so much more clear?