Richard Therrien Leadership and “Habits”
To be an effective educational leader, my belief is that I have to interact honestly with myself first, before I can interact with others. This is demonstrated in the philosophy espoused by Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
What this means is that through study, careful thought, and research I have come up with the principles and values that guide me as a leader. Why do I teach? What’s my job as an educator? Why do we have schools? Why am I a leader? The answers to these questions form my “True North” and those are the important principles that I cling to. In developing these principles, I haven’t been able to go through the kind of internal organization that Covey so often describes, because many of my beliefs are reactive, rather than proactive. I think I first became interested in being a science teacher when I saw how poorly several of my teachers planned at a subject I loved. I think it was further cemented by the reaction to the superior and elitist attitude of the science and engineering majors I studied with in college. I only started thinking about teaching “kids” rather than teaching a subject after I was forced to in interdisciplinary courses in middle school. Now, after twenty years of being an educator, I find that I have finally been able to answer these fundamental questions, and come up with my core beliefs.
Schools are for kids. All kids.
Planning is a teacher’s job.
Openness is always preferred over a hidden agenda.
Everyone has a valid viewpoint.
These ideas, and the ideas that spring off them, are my conscience as a professional educator. What this means is that if I keep to these, especially the first, as my “True North”, then I will focus on the things that are important. This means that as I go through my day, I am planning (one of more core beliefs) not only the various beuaracaratic and organizational tasks, but I am examining those against the motives and beliefs I have about education and leadership. As a teacher this means taking every word, action and phrase and holding it up to the light of “Is this good for the kids and their learning?”, as well as “How have I involved them, and am I being honest?”. As a leader, I am examining my motives and actions against how it will help others help students, and how it will involve their valid viewpoints. This relates to Covey’s concepts of trust, empowerment and alignment.
The empowerment concept inherent in Covey’s work strongly relates to the issues of trust. Even though I know that I am keeping the best interests of the students in mind, I can’t always be sure that others do. This involves trust. If a teacher shows a video in class because they are tired that day, then there needs to be openness and discussion, rather than judgment and rancor. As a leader, I need to build up the skills and internal organization of those I work with, rather than tear it down. This doesn’t mean not holding others accountable, it means being open and honest about my desire to serve as an example.
When I do communicate with others, Covey offers some sage advice about how to look at communication. Proactive does not mean reactive. People tend to react rather than respond, but a leader has to believe that you can't respond without a thought. This means listening, engaging, understanding and then careful response. When I seek our understanding first, before presenting my view as the standard, the effect is to make all those involved more responsive to myself and to others. In terms of curriculum change, this means letting people answer the important questions and agreeing to discuss them. This leads to the synergy habit, so often looked for, but rarely achieved.
The best curriculum, the best lesson plans, the best schools are those that are focused around the synergy of the ideas of all those involved. By being open and honest about my motives and desires, I am encouraging others to do so. Whatever product is then made has the benefit of the lack of hidden agendas. A curriculum that has as it goals to teach all students how to think, is preferable to one that has the goals of a disinterested third party.
There is also an eighth habit of the mind that I strongly identify with, as I have described. To move from effectiveness to greatness, I need to find my voice and inspire others to find theirs. It is not enough to keep myself to true north. I need to be able to articulate it, and then, as so many have done for me as an educator, use it to inspire others. I have made some good strides towards this goal as a teacher, and as an instructional leader. I consider it to be one of the primary reasons for going into leadership, and will keep it as one of my “important things”.