The traditional protocol for writing a statement of philosophy of education or leadership usually guides you to write about your beliefs as an educator. However, I thought it might be far more compelling to examine what I do not believe about education, leadership and creating a culture of innovation. This is my top 10 list:
- I do not believe in silos. An administrator of a school cannot do it all. One of my responsibilities is to develop future leaders from within. This begins with trust. Trusting that the teachers I work with will contribute ideas that will help our school grow. When you encourage teachers to take risks and develop as leaders it inevitably becomes a part of the instruction in the classroom and the greater community as well. Parents and students begin to feel compelled to participate and the school becomes the center of something safe, far more engaging and meaningful.
- I do not believe that ‘one size fits all.’ I believe that every member of the school community has different needs and it is my responsibility to provide the tools to assist them in meeting those needs. Teachers need differentiation of professional development in the same way that our students need individualized instruction. If the true goal is to develop lifelong learners you cannot stifle growth with a ‘one size fits all’ model.
- I do not believe in experts. The rate at which education is evolving is mind-bending. I do believe in expertise that continually develops. However, is it possible for anyone to truly be an expert with how quickly the field of education is shifting? New information in the fields of child development and neurology are showing us that we can always improve upon how we meet the needs of our children. There is always something new to learn about teaching and how we foster children to develop as thinkers.
- I do not believe everything I hear or read. Part of being an effective leader is the ability to sort truth from fiction. You learn this early on as a teacher…particularly on April Fool’s Day. I always look at the calendar each school year with great hopes April 1st will occur on a Saturday or Sunday. Humor aside, the ability to know your school well, the participants and being a critical thinker allows you to easily dis-spell rumours, bad information and put out fires before they can damage the community.
- I do not believe in technology. Even I cringe as I write that statement given how much I incorporate technology into my everyday life (my MacBook is getting a workout this week.) However, I do also cringe when I see technology used in schools solely for the purpose of saying ‘we are using technology.” I believe in digital tools that provoke questions, conversations, and inspire. We have to be savvy as educators when new technologies arrive and careful in how we use these technologies with our students, parents and teachers. It is a wondrous tool that allows us to do many innovative things and with it comes great responsibility.
- I do not believe in presumptions. I have had the privilege to work in the United States and international schools in three different countries. Cultural presumptions have been eliminated from my thinking throughout this incredible adventure. This is not to say that different cultures do not have varying ways of thinking, processing and living their lives. I mean that across cultures there are several constants that are visible in all cultures: empathy, curiosity, hope and the indelible spirit of children. I believe it is our job to foster that joy and preserve it in hopes of a better future.
- I do not believe in ‘can’t’. I worked with an amazing director a few years ago who gave me some sage advice as I was moving into a leadership role. She explained at the beginning of each year to the staff that if they had a dilemma or an issue they were not to come to her office without at least one possible solution. This provokes students, teachers and parents to think of alternatives, possibilities and become problem-solvers rather than permeate the community with negativity. It also eliminates ‘can’t’ from their vocabulary and instead you begin to hear words such as “able”, “collaborative” and “resourceful.”
- I do not believe in rules. My favorite students and teachers have always been the rule-breakers. Why? Because they see the world in a different way. They are full of humor which is necessary in a sometimes humorless world. They know how to cope and improve upon the status-quo without fear of failure. Rule-breakers are innovators, our future entrepreneurs. They are the thinkers and problem-solvers. We need more of these qualities and it is our responsibility to foster their courage and creativity.
- I do not believe there is one way to do things. This year one of my challenges to my teachers is to try something different. I have a quote on the wall of my office that is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper; “The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘we’ve always done it this way’”. How can we expect different results when we continue to rinse and repeat? Teachers and students aren’t rebelling and disrupting education because they are educational anarchists but rather because the schools that were developed a century ago are not meeting their needs. I want students and parents banging on the doors not to get out of our schools, but rather to get in and experience something inspiring and authentic.
- Finally, I do not believe in living to work. Most leaders within schools are perfectionists (guilty as charged!) and highly passionate about all that they do. This is a wonderful quality but not without a significant detriment . . . burnout. Having a well-balanced lifestyle that allows one to take a moment for themselves is imperative. Modeling this self care for faculty, staff and students is leadership as well. We need to remember as leaders of schools to take time to breathe, dance, sing and renew.
If I had to reduce this list to one sentence, I am a believer in honoring traditions while inspiring change. I look forward to future dialogues on this and our shared love of education.