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5 lessons for education leaders

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend ASCD’s Conference on Educational Leadership, which focused on building resilient schools. It was a great learning experience for me, and one that helped me to reflect on my own practices as a learner and a leader. The focus on elements of equity also connected to an overarching focal area in my region, and it was great to serve both as a student and a facilitator during the conference. There were a lot of takeaways for me, and five interesting reflection points that I’ve chosen to write about in this post. In no particular order, here they are.

Focus on the through line. During the opening session, Pete Hall and Kristin Souers shared their work in the area of trauma-invested schooling. They talked about the spectrum of trauma-savvy practices, and highlighted the need to follow the through line when working with learners. If we are going to support those we serve, then we need to make sure that we are connecting our work back to the same philosophical underpinnings and practical action steps. If we choose to be “all in” for learners, young and older, then we need to make sure everyone sees how the work we engage in is connected, and what their individual role is within that work.

Recognize your biases. With a focus on supporting resilient schools, there were many wonderful sessions that led participants to reflect on their own equitable practices. One session that left a major impact on my thinking was led by Alissa Farias. She spoke about the need to recognize that we all carry biases, and that our recourse is to recognize them and be committed to shifting over thinking away from them. Her sessions contained a significant number of resources and provided much food for thought, including key questions I need to ask of the work I do in my own organization.

Solve big problems with big solutions. During the second morning general session, Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, delivered a compelling keynote with a number of foundational points. One that stuck with me was that when we are faced with big problems, we have to be willing to solve them with big solutions. Too often we wear problems like socks: hidden away, held close to our bodies, and totally unapproachable by others. Instead, we need to call problems out for what they are, and speak to the rationale for why they need to be solved together. The bigger the problem, the bigger the solution needs to be, and therefore the bigger the cast that needs to help solve it.

Take advantage of multiple opportunities to try out ideas. I was lucky enough to be able to facilitate a session related to using the power of relationships to help others (and ourselves) continue to get great work done. One of the hallmarks of this conference was that many of the workshop sessions were facilitated twice: once in the morning, and then again in the afternoon. I enjoyed this double-duty structure as it provided me and my co-facilitator, Meghan Everette, with an opportunity to rethink some of our facilitation moves and consider other ways to get our points across. It is important to always remember that “one and done” professional learning is not just problematic for the learners in the audience. It is also problematic for the learners doing the facilitating. Without practice, how can we ever hope to improve?

Connect and reconnect. One of the great parts of any gathering is the opportunity provided to connect with old friends and new, as well as colleagues from near and far. It was great to be able to discuss ideas with educators from the region and state where I work, as well as gain deeper insight into what is happening educationally across the nation and the world. It also was valuable to continue to build a network of like-minded educators who I can count on to help me grow and improve. While the idea of networking may be challenging for some (me included, sometimes), this conference further reminded me of the importance of this critical skill. In the end, it all centers on relationships.

In the education profession, it is true that there is never enough time. There is never enough time for every initiative, never enough time to engage in all the conversations we want to, and never enough time to design homerun-style experiences every moment of every day. And yet, we do our best to make time for all of these aspects of our work, because we recognize how important they are. Another important aspect of our work that we cannot ignore is the opportunity to leave the day-to-day of our organizations and make time for outside learning; our minds need to be reinvigorated from time-to-time in order to make sure that we have the energy to keep moving great work forward.

I had a wonderful time at ASCD’s CEL Conference, and am looking forward to the Empower20 conference in March. If you attended CEL, please share what you found to be most impactful for your practice!

Fred Ende is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book, Professional Development That Sticks, is available from ASCD. Visit his website www.fredende.com. Find him on Twitter @fredende.

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