Tag Archives: Leadership

What really matters when you’re at work?

Of course, I answer as an educator…

It’s the people in front of you. Those of us who love our jobs as educators constantly put the work of listening and advising first. We do it because as human beings we love to tell stories, to listen to others’ stories, to find humor and humanity in our shared experiences, to probe for the deepest and most adequate answers to our questions, to create opportunities for learning and teaching.

A significant portion of our workload though extends beyond conversation and human-to-human connection and learning. Much of our work is predicated on our individual time spent toiling and twittering away at our computers, copiers, and classroom materials. The actual “work” of our work–or so it seems. When do we have time to create our lessons, find the right reading, assess and sort student work? Or as administrators, when do we have the time to finish the PowerPoint presentation on our school’s data, write and send the reminder letter about classroom expectations to families and students, locate missing student records?¬†For so many of us, what stresses us most is the constant drain of this competition for our attention: human development and learning vs. followthrough on tangible products.

Layer onto that the reality that we increasingly seem to suffer from the attention deficit disorder of internet multitasking at our computer screens and desks. Many of us living in this “Web2.0 World” turn to our email or favorite news sources for one reason but end up gleefully following curiosities and new questions further afield from our original intents. We see the interconnectedness of our interests and needs, and suddenly all information seems to be somehow relevant to our goals. And it is because our interests and our questions expand with the vast array of knowledge and tools at our fingertips. The more we learn, the more we search. Before we know it, instead of “getting work done” and making headway on those all-too-numerous products we so desperately want and need to finish, we have constructed a time and space to advance our own learning. So when does the work get done? When do we shut off the learning?

When you choose to work in education it is because you are good at learning. You learn from communicating with others. You learn from the music you listen to and create, from the art you consume and create, from what you read, from your hobbies. You love learning, so perhaps the work of the educator is ever-expanding and borders between home and work easily penetrated and falsely constructed because of this deep desire and capacity to learn that we have as educators.

What really matters when you’re at work?¬†Learning. Teaching.

Stepping into the role of intern and outsider this fall has allowed me to more easily take on the perspectives of others and compare and contrast them with my own values and actions. Today I observed educators more experienced than I answer this question for me about what really matters when at work. They didn’t answer with their words, and I didn’t even have to ask it. Their actions spoke clearly and convincingly. When you’re at work as an educator, what matters is the learning and the teaching you do with the other human beings around you–students, teachers, interns, administrators, parents, community members. The importance of products and followthrough corresponds to your personal ambition. If you are ambitious, you carve out time of your evenings, your mornings, your weekends to toil away at these products. What you come to work for each day though has nothing to do with making photocopies, organizing binders, or making sure you have speakers for your computer. As an educator you come to work to learn and teach. You will find time to do all (or at least the most essential) of the detail work that marks your reputation as a doer elsewhere. Showing up to work is all about investing in the people that make the organization, the teaching, and the learning excellent and long-lasting.

Happy Inspired Birthday to Me–Thank You Chicago Public Schools


I am so inspired by Nancy Slavin who is part of the Chicago Public Schools HR Department. She is so good and doing such amazing work. Watching people make transformative change is so powerful. It makes me believe that change in possible even in hierarchical systems that tend to reward and sustain mediocrity. She described the beginning of her job as feeling like she started as “captain of the titanic,” and yet she still transformed her domain. I like this example. Let me restate that: I love this example. When I’m around leaders like this, I am inspired with every part of my being to actualize my leadership potential. Greatness seems to come from Chicago these days.

I thought my favorite birthday present was going to be the Maureen Dowd column I discovered this morning imagining Sarah Palin’s current dairy. This experience tops that. Happy inspired birthday to me!

Superintendent? UELP’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Today we met the cohort that is two years ahead of us. They seem so far ahead of us, mostly working as district leaders–some already superintendents and even former superintendents. Perhaps they came in more seasoned than we are now, but perhaps two years from now we will have grown into the leaders they clearly are now.

As I sat in the resource management class (focused on HR this week) our two cohorts are jointly taking at TC this summer, I wondered how much all of this is a self-fulfilling prophecy established by the Organization and Leadership department at TC. To what extent are they district leaders now because the program named them as a cohort ready for the challenges of leadership in urban districts? To what extent will they stay with the work because of the cohort model and because of the training UELP is providing? To what extent do I now (as of 4 hours ago) see the path toward becoming a superintendent as possible and perhaps desirable because of the frame of this program?
I actually realized today that under the right leadership, working in a district could be satisfying work that pushes toward wide scale change. At first, I felt out of place sitting in a classroom where the instructor asked us to frame a vision for how we wanted to manage human resources in our district. This is a level of questioning I have never been exposed to, and I knew at some point in this program, we would begin to shift in this direction. The work we have done in the first two weeks immersing ourselves in the research has felt pleasantly familiar, like an old high school or college buddy you see again after 3 years and realize that you still connect. I’m good at being a graduate student and scholar.
Working alongside more established school leaders this past two weeks has pushed me to feel more comfortable calling myself a leader publicly. I have always seen myself as someone with strong leadership skills, experience, and dispositions, but this is the first time in a while I have actually identified with and embraced the title of leader. When I decided to enter to realm of urban education 13 years ago as an outsider who grew up in a rural homogeneous community, I disassociated with the identity of leader. I knew that I had so much learning to do, so much listening, and so much living. I have been consciously building my practice in a field I care passionately about; I have been pushing myself to become competent and established enough to be on firm ground when I assert that we can and should transform urban systems to be more just and equitable. I finally feel ready to assume a formal leadership role in this field.
I have to trust that I belong with these two cohorts of established principals, executives, district leaders, and superintendents. I remain open to a variety of leadership roles, and today I accepted for the first time that included in the list of possible leadership roles is the title superintendent. Where do I go from here? That’s still up to the NYC job market the opportunities I find through TC. I’m curious to see where this path leads me in the near future. The next two years will likely be largely shaped by UELP’s vision, connections, and requirements, and I look forward to be looking back measuring the likely inevitable exponential growth two years in this program will produce.