Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Balance vs Culture

As part of the Harvard Principals Institute I attended  we needed to share one of the biggest leadership challenges. There are many that we all had and we all had very similar ones but the biggest one for me is trying to create a balance between being open and supportive while at the same time being firm at times and having those difficult conversations. As I look back on my first year in my current position I had this balance to contend with, the Ying and then there was the Yang in  creating a faculty culture of trust, openness and not micro managing. Coming into the position from what I heard the creating this culture was very important. I believe I was successful, one teacher commented that I was easy to talk to since I always had an open door and was open and honest with her. 
However I lost sight of the balance. In an effort to build trust I did away with lesson plans, following the advice of a mentor of mine who  said that  you need to trust the teachers to be professional in the classroom and if you can't trust them then they shouldn't be working for you. I also want to get the teachers to think more about their own learning and what they do in the classroom and not just write down what they had hoped to accomplish. Therefore , I tried faculty reflections but that didn't work. The bottom line was that I swung the pendulum too far and I only focused on one area of faculty culture and lost sight of the balance needed .  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Reflections From Harvard ( Part One)

I had the opportunity thanks to a grant from the Avi Chai foundation to attend the Harvard Principles institute; Leadership an Evolving Vision ( LEV ) from July 7-14. I hope to blog more about the specific things I learned and takeaways from the individual sessions in future blogs but I wanted to write my general reflections with  this opening blog. 

The words that first come to mind are amazing, wow, once in a lifetime. That is what I felt like being there for the week surrounded by top educators from around the world as well as some amazing educators as part of the Avi Chai group. The other amazing and at the same time humbling experience was to actually learn from the experts in the field. We heard from leading experts like Kim Marshall, Robert Kegan, Liz City, and many others. 

So what made this so special? 

First of all Harvard built into the program a day of project adventure which focused on team building and the importance of creating this type of culture of trust in our schools and organizations. Harvard divided us up into small groups and we had a chance to debrief and learn  and share daily with our small group. However what made that group of educators come together and form a bond was our experience at project Adventure. In my school group alone there were two other Jewish Day school educators two Principals from New Zealand, One from Australia and one from Paraguay. We also covered elementary school, high school, and both public and private schools. I would say a pretty diverse group. However after a day at Project Adventure and the subsequent small group discussions we all became friends. I would be hard pressed to say that without this Harvard Institute I would have come to meet these other amazing educators from such diverse backgrounds. 

That brings me to the next point  DIVERSITY. This was an international group from very diverse backgrounds and we all came together with a common goal of trying to improve our own leadership style as well as improving our schools. As an Orthodox Jew who is a Sabbath observer and keeps the Kosher Dietary laws you may think that a conference like this would be somewhat difficult. On the contrary thanks to Harvard and Avi Chai things were done so seamlessly with regard to meals and Sabbath Observance that it wasn't even an issue. Not only wasn't it an issue but I was never made to feel different or that I couldn't fully participate and gain from the program. 

Finally there was time to defrief on two levels to take the things we learned and make them more practical. The first opportunity was with our Harvard small group. We came together for  over an hour each day to reflect on that day's lecture and share our major takeaways and ideas of how we can take what we learned and bring it back to our schools. On most days I came up with to take away and then after hearing the group I came up with two or three more things that I wanted to work on. In the evenings our Avi Chai group met to debrief and see how what we learned can directly affect the Jewish culture within our schools. Here too I came away with so many ideas. 

Overall  it is a must for any educational leader. The biggest and perhaps most important thing that I learned is that while we may come from vastly different backgrounds and even cultures not only do we all have the very similar goals but we are all struggling and dealing with very similar problems. I think it easy for us to get caught up in this feeling that we are the only ones dealing with this problem or that this is a problem for private school and not public, or we are facing these challenges in the US but other countries aren't dealing with this. Harvard taught me that those notions are false and that we can truly learn from everyone. 

Now the real work begins with taking what I learned and bring it to life for me personally and professionally 
Stay tuned as the adventure continues.