“What each of us must come to realize is that our intent always comes through.”
– Thurgood Marshall, First African-American Supreme Court Justice
Another trip around the sun … another year full of hope, dreams, opportunity, and possibility, another “do-over” for us all! Over time, I have written about the power of the “do-over” that we in education get each July (the new school year). On January 1st, around the world, we each get another “do-over.”
So … what will we do over? What hopes, dreams, opportunities, and possibilities should we put forward? It’s a powerful contemplation – a powerful window with which we get to look through the world. It’s pretty awesome to be able to rest, recharge, and re-do all that makes sense. In my profession, it’s all about creating conditions for educators to support and enrich youth — we teach, we create learning spaces for children and young adults, and we create the future (I know … it’s a bit lofty — but we in education work in the profession that creates all other professions, we’re at the foundation of humanity). Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic on the first day of the new year, or perhaps I’m embellishing our impact as educators; perhaps, I’m right!
In my personal and professional career in public education, 2023 marks my 31st year of service as a public school educator (teacher, school administrator, district administrator, and I’m finishing my 13th year as a public school superintendent). In the year of my country, we’re entering our 247th year as a free nation. It’s the 13th year of the iPad … 2023 is many things to many people. From the new AI tool, when I entered the search query: “what does the year 2023 represent, I received the following machine-generated response:
The year 2023 is the 2023rd year in the Gregorian calendar. It is a common year, meaning it has 365 days in total. 2023 is the 23rd year of the 21st century and the 4th year of the 2020s decade.
I share the AI (artificial intelligence) response as an interesting “statement” as to what’s going on “technologically speaking.” I (or anyone) can enter a search query, and this new tool can generate a “Human-Like” chat with me about just about anything. So … I’ve been an educator before the internet, during its birth, before Google … and so on. In our 2017 book, The Unlearning Leader: Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today (Rowman & Littlefield), Nick Polyak and I wrote, in chapter 1,
Times have changed. Ten years ago, superintendents and principals used the U.S. Postal Service to support communication and leadership. They used paper memos and inter-office envelopes and even voicemail. Teachers would send a paper newsletter home each week. Communication today is instant and immediate. Today’s superintendents, today’s teachers, and today’s students are connected 24/7 and are able to communicate with blogs, audio, video, text messaging, e-mail, and any number of social media applications like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Remind, Voxer, Snapchat, etc.
The past ten years have shown significant changes in terms of consumption of information and “fingertip” access. Yes, times have changed. Communication has changed, but the importance of communication in support of leadership and innovation remains the same. Today’s superintendent knows how to leverage the power of technology to harness effective and impactful communication. Today’s teachers share learning examples in real time.
This was a reflection on communication from 2006-2016. Now, 7 years later, with exponential growth and change in technology, communication tools, “fingertip access,” and the worldwide global pandemic (and related trauma, change, silver linings – all of the above), there have been even more powerful real-time examples of how teachers and superintendents can enhance and improve their abilities to communicate and to lead.
In our 2021 book, The Unfinished Leader: A School Leadership Framework for Growth & Development (Rowman & Littlefield), Nick Polyak, PJ Caposey, and I write about Managing Change with New Information (Chapter 11 in Part V: Communication).
The most important thing is transforming our minds, for a new way of thinking, a new outlook: we should strive to develop a new inner world.–Dalai Lama
If you are reading this book, we can say with near certainty that you make critical decisions and problem solve every day. Oftentimes when we are pushed into making a critical decision there is not a singular answer that can satisfy the problem at hand. Instead, you call on your prior experiences, the input of trusted colleagues and mentors, and the input of your affected stakeholders.
What we are certain of is that as a leader you will be faced with problems and issues in the future that seem unimaginable right now. The world is changing at an exponential rate. Understanding that fact is crucial, and understanding how to successfully navigate those problems and issues is what will make the unfinished leader ultimately successful.
So, as we embrace the changes, both known/predictable and unknown/unpredictable, with the dawn of the year 2023, I share a sense of wonder, excitement, anticipation, and hope for the good that we as a human race can offer, that we as educators can create, and that we as writers can share with the world! It’s always time to “unlearn”, remain “unfinished,” and embrace the “do-over” as the calendars clear for 12 more months.
Finally, in our 2018 book, Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable (Rowman & Littlefield), we conclude with a call to action, so as we embark on 2023, as a long-time public school educator, I suggest that the resolutions we should have in addition to Unlearning and remaining Unfinished, should be to elevate student voice and agency in your public school system. In conclusion,
This book is about one thing – building upon the kids-first mentality that all great educators have and transforming the mentality of serving kids first to serving with kids first. This book is our call to action. This book should provide a sense of urgency and a corresponding hope for the future. Our greatest asset is (and always will be) our students.
Ask: Ask students to think big and ask them to think about where their voice being heard would have the greatest impact on the school.
Support: We have taken some of the brilliance from students over time and they may not know how to react to this question. It is your job to ensure that they reach into their Kindergarten heart and mind to be fearless and to guarantee that their imagination has no bounds.
Know: Nobody knows your kids as well as you do. This is a change, and it is a change that they may not initially trust. It will most likely take leadership at the individual student level to help create student ownership as part of the culture of your building.
Empower: Great leaders set floors for performance but never ceilings. Create an environment that empowers your students to lead change and dream big.
Monitor: Giving students an opportunity to have their voice heard and not acting on it will cause significant regression in your building. It is important to understand that this process is fluid and ongoing. Change is incremental and not linear. It is necessary to monitor the level of success of incorporating student voice at every turn.
Happy & Healthy New Year!