School Board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents…ALL educators are called to be courageous leaders. I looked up the definitions of those two words, and here is what Dictionary.com stated:
Courageous: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
Leadership: a person who guides, directs, leads.
I had the privilege of attending the Minnesota School Boards Association’s Annual Leadership Conference last week, and the theme was Courageous Leadership. Alan Blankstein was our first keynote speaker, and he danced his way onto the stage to Aretha Franklin’s Respect. The man had moves…and dancing in front of 2,200 people is pretty courageous if you ask me.
One memorable story Alan shared was of a boy who walked by the principal every day. The principal would extend his hand to shake the boy’s hand, and each time the boy would walk on by. Day after day the boy would stroll by and not shake the principal’s hand. After three months of trying, the principal stopped putting his hand out. When the boy walked by and the principal didn’t have his hand extended, the boy asked:
“Why you do that?”
“Do what?” asked the principal.
“Not put your hand out?” the boy quizzed.
“Because for three months you refused to shake it so I stopped,” the principal answered.
The boy slumped his shoulders, frowned, and dismally said, “You gave up on me man.”
Alan Blankstein encouraged us to NEVER give up on kids, no matter how long it takes. Other motivating advice that Alan had for all of us to be courageous leaders was:
- Courageous leaders run toward the danger, not from it.
- Those who need courageous leaders the most expect it the least.
- To be effective teachers, you must truly understand your students.
- We cannot give up, even when students push us away…and they will push us away.
- Equity is the issue of our times.
- Creating school cultures for the lowest students is good for ALL students.
- Implicit Association Bias…we all do it. What are we going to do to change it?
- Trust is critical. If there is no trust, there is almost no chance of students excelling.
- Start with where kids are at.
- Create schools where kids want to get into more than they want to get out of.
I was giddy when I read in the MSBA program booklet that former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and former Minnesota Viking Defensive Lineman, Alan Page, was our closing keynote. I faithfully watched him play football during my high school days in the late 70’s. I was a true “purple people eater” fan.
I also read in the MSBA program booklet that Justice Page had published a children’s book with his daughter titled Alan and his Perfectly Pointy Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky. I ordered it from Amazon and brought it with me to the conference in hopes for his autograph. I planned on tackling him to get it. 😉 Okay, maybe not. But…after he was finished speaking, I walked back behind stage (with the permission of the MSBA folks) and had the honor of shaking his hand and getting my book signed. Autograph victory!
It was an extraordinary presentation by Justice Alan Page. He was inspirational, gentle, humorous, humble, and focused. It was an honor to hear his beliefs on courageous leadership:
- Preparation is key to success. Without preparation opportunity becomes an empty promise.
- Our fears may be what limits us, but even if they cause us to stumble, good preparation will help pick us back up.
- Be the best you can be at whatever you choose to do in life.
- People who have a stake in society protect that society.
- Effective education: one school at a time, one classroom at a time, one child at a time.
- The power of choice is the power of liberty.
- No matter who we are or what we do, we need to continually review our character.
- Our character is defined by how we act.
- Rhetoric without action is self-defeating.
- If we are going to learn to live together, then we need to start living together.
- Making bias harder to detect is not the same as making it go away.
- It is time that more is done than said.
Being a courageous leader may be difficult at times, but let’s work hard, be brave, and face the challenges before us. Let’s run towards the challenges, not away from them. Let’s create schools where kids are breaking down the doors to get in and not out. Let’s take quality education and kick it up a notch. We are called to be courageous leaders. Let’s answer that calling without fear, and let’s do it with finesse for our kids.