I am at the NSDC Conference in Washington, D.C. and attended the first day of my two-day preconference with Dennis Sparks around his book Leading for Results. Imagine my surprise to walk into a national conference that had no homework in advance of the session, no LCD projector and screen in the room, and no handouts. For many people, these are the hallmarks of a "good" presentation - the notion that when you pay for things (and pay a great deal) you need to have "things" to show the value of what you learned.
Dennis quickly dispelled us of this notion. In going through how he wrote the book (now in a second edition) he talked a lot about his favorite word: perturbed. He used it a great deal and it really resonated with me as I have long been a favorite of the phrase "educational deviant." They mean the same thing : someone who is shaking up the status quo in education. Not in a bad way, not in a "dig in your heels because we are never changing this" way. Instead, in a this is not working, hasn't worked for a very long time and if we don't do something different then we are doing a huge disservice to our students way.
Throughout the course of the day - Dennis asked us to reflect on and write about a problem that if we had the solution would have a significant impact on our life. As we listened to him talk about how to lead for results, he would stop and have us reflect on how using that one tool or idea might help lead to the solution. This was pretty powerful - not just that we were able to take the time and apply it to the problem, but that we started with making an assumption that it just might be the answer.
I believe that in education we work from a deficit perspective- we find gaps in data, we focus on the students who are under-performing, we work to "fix" teachers who are getting it done, we show how we don't measure up to other countries in any number of areas. Rarely do we see a focus on the assets we have in education.
I want to start focusing on those assets. I want to be what Dennis calls a resonant leader: one who creates "virtuous spirals of emotion" in those around them. And that needs to start with me identifying and working on my "signature strengths." We did a powerful exercise do help uncover those. Dennis had us think back to the last day that we were at work. Then think back to the last hour of that day. We then listed our strengths by telling a story of that last hour. I realized that I have some strengths that I often wish were better - things that I am good at but I always look at as in need of improvement.
Finally - we ended the day by taking 100 blank index cards and writing "I want" statements. These could be wants we have in any area of our life: work, family, friends, health, spirit. We had to write as many as we could, one per card. We wrote like this for about 20 minutes and then shared with a small group - one at a time. We then wrote for 10 more minutes. Our homework: double the number of cards we had for this morning.
The point? Sometimes people are a lot more clear about what they DON'T WANT than what they WANT. As leaders, we need to be clear about what we want in order to lead well. We need to speak with the voice of intention and that voice needs to be crystal clear. Clarity is a magnet.
We'll do more with those cards tomorrow - but for now I am just trying to get clear.