Some educators have claimed that a career in education is the most rewarding. I would have to agree. Those same folks around March of every year may also be heard saying that working in education is equally as challenging. Helping young people reach their maximum potential - rewarding. Working along side passionate, selfless educators willing to go the extra mile to ensure success for every student - rewarding. However, the nuisances of working in education - major challenge. If you work in education, I do not need to populate the list of challenges for you, chances are you probably have a few running lists of challenges going already. For others, some of the challenge highlights are achievement gap, access gap/inequities, LCAP/LCFF, teacher tenure/evaluations, top-down initiatives, state/local budgeting discrepancies, union demands, staff competencies, culturally relevant pedogogy, community relations, safety and the list could go on and on depending on individual districts.
That being said, it is always my intent to be solution-oriented on my blog, in professional development I facilitate, and personally. Therefore, given the innumerable list of challenges educators face on any given day, my recommendation is to know, stand on, lead with, and make decisions based on your core, guiding professional principles. It is easy, and human nature, to get distracted by challenges such as individual situations, isolated circumstances, and/or temporary variables. I'm not saying ignore the challenges. I am saying refocus your efforts and be dogmatic about the desired outcomes. When you have identified and stand on your principles, even given some of the above-referenced challenges, you continue to make decisions and/or act with the desired outcome in mind. When you stand on principle, the "how" and the "who" may change often, but not the "what".
I worked very closely with an awesome group of passionate, dedicated cross-sector of professionals and community members for three years developing a strategic plan for countywide efforts to reduce the violence youth were exposed to and to create vibrant communities where youth could thrive. This effort used results based accountability to guide our three year planning and implementation process. It was an amazing learning experience.
With results based accountability, the planning begins with first identifying desired outcomes or goals based on guiding principles. In other words, the strategic planning begins with the "what" do we want, not the "how" do we do it. Instead of starting with the problem, and only focusing on finding a narrow solution to the specific problem, results based accountability forces the process to first identify the desired outcome. For example, if truancy is a problem in a school, as a deterrent, having students and parents cited or fined might be an action some schools take in response to the problem of truancy. On the other hand, using results based accountability, given the guiding principle of inclusiveness, leaders may begin with identifying the goal of wanting a school culture where each student is valued and present daily to contribute to the learning experience. If that's the goal, the next step is to identify actions and/or supports that are needed to make that goal happen. The latter example is more than taking the narrow action of citing in response to truancy. With the goal of wanting a school culture where each student is valued and present daily to contribute to the learning experience, the intentional actions taken and/or enacted policy will indeed affect truancy, but will also impact overall student achievement, staff moral, and school culture.
When educators use guiding principles to make decisions that impact students, the thought processes and conversations are more aligned with the latter example. I'm sure we have all gone to planning committee meetings that were derailed and ineffective because they began (and probably ended) with simply stating and restating the problems, instead of thinking big picture goals. Here is my challenge to you transformational leaders: TAKE YOUR MEETING BACK AND REDIRECT THE EFFORTS.
I know it will take planning and strategizing, and will drive you close to the edge....but don't jump! Remember the desired outcomes, and move the group towards it. Keep them focused on intentional actions for desired outcomes. Continue to remind them of the common ground principles and the eutopia that could exist when the outcomes/goals are realized. Acknowledge and validate their concerns, complaints, and endless list of problems, but don't stay there. Bring them back to guiding principles, desired outcomes, and intentional actions. This takes practice, flexibility, tough skin, vision, strategizing, being dogmatic, and most of all patience. This may start as a retreat conversation that spills over to the school year. Get your leadership team around the table to strategize how best to start the conversation, but by all means start it. Our students can't wait. Educators must know, stand on, lead with, and make decisions based on your core, guiding professional principles.