While this pandemic has not always brought out the best in many, we have been astounded by the steadfast leadership shown by educational leaders across our state and country.
Whether traditional public, public charter, or private, school leaders have adapted quickly and reinvented instruction with an entrepreneurial and service-minded spirit. While we all have had to pivot professionally, some of us have had the luxury of being able to work from home with ready access to technology, without having to ensure the mental health, nourishment, safety, security and transportation of hundreds of children… in a global pandemic.
We are business leaders who serve on the board of directors and community advisory council for BES, an organization committed to helping school leaders build, excel and sustain success and student achievement. Our work with them has given us a unique perspective on what it takes to be an effective school leader, and there are so many parallels to the qualities that we value in the world of business.
Commitment to care
A quality teaching mechanism is the driving force that keeps students learning and growing, but kids don’t care how much a teacher knows until kids know how much they care. Similarly, school leaders know that the key to retaining gifted teachers is to ensure they know they are valued and supported. Great leaders ask, “How do I take care of my people and give them the tools to be their best?” At the end of the day, our customers can get a product from another vendor, but what we can offer are employees who care because they know they are cared for.
The pandemic has impacted all of us differently, based on characteristics like geography, identity, and access to resources. Great school leaders are always thinking about equity, ensuring students, families, and teachers are supported in the way that they need. For example, while a leader may be encouraged by 90% staff retention numbers, they look for trends among the missing 10% and build solutions that are not just equal, but equitable.
Charles is the board chairman of Vista College Preparatory, a public charter school founded by extraordinary school leaders supported by BES. The school was already doing critically important work with an under-resourced community before COVID happened. We saw what they were able to accomplish in one of the toughest learning environments in history. They turned on a dime, creating a fully virtual program in just eight days to keep the students learning, and creating a virtual summer school program for Vista students and youth throughout their community that may not otherwise have had access. They remained in daily contact with families to address their needs with incredible professionalism. While adaptability and changing quickly to meet demand is a normal part of running a business, that is not how our country’s schools are typically designed. Because Vista College Prep was built to be responsive to its community, their students have persevered in the wake of COVID.
Whether it’s experienced teachers or ones who are new to the field, but extraordinarily passionate, great school leaders hire gifted people and delegate responsibility to them. Not only does this build leadership capacity, but it also sustains that capacity by deepening an organization’s leadership bench. It also keeps the school leader’s head “out of the weeds” and looking ahead to embrace strategy and set direction. Good leaders know when to take charge and when to cheer from the sidelines.
When you hire the right people, care for them, and give them what they need to be successful, how do you handle it well if they fall short? Business leaders can really learn from the world of education here. Gifted school leaders are clear about their expectations, set high bars for achievement and hold their team accountable. Teachers know from data gathering and assessment results how their students are performing and where they need support. If we as business leaders can be specific about what constitutes quality work and evaluate our employees before big issues arise, we can give them the chance to change course before a big mistake happens.
We built businesses because we loved the work and earned the respect of leaders who recognized and nurtured our potential. Volunteering to serve education organizations like BES and schools like Vista College Prep has given us the opportunity to see what top notch leadership looks like in the education world, and we are amazed.
To school leaders everywhere: we see you, we respect you, we thank you. May you be blessed with the strength you need to make this unprecedented school year meaningful and fulfilling.