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EdWeek's Leaders to Learn From

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Education Week recently published its first report entitled Leaders to Learn From. In what will become an annual report, they highlight leaders from across the United States "who seized on creative but practical approaches to improving their school systems and put those ideas to work." The report offers stories from 16 leaders who made changes in their schools that made a difference. Each of the 16 were nominated by those who knew their work and were willing to recognize those among us who can be our models.

Long-Standing Ties, Vision, and Sustainability
There was a common characteristic among the group. " ...most of them have long-standing ties to the communities they serve". For those who had the opportunity to serve in one district over time, the advantages abound. The possibilities are greater for sustained trust, positive relationships, credibility, the accumulation of political capital, and an appreciated personal investment. The stories shared in this annual report underscore the value of consistent leadership.

This is particularly interesting. Those holding leadership positions have been in a revolving door in many districts. Yet, this new report confirms what we have known. Staying in one community over time has positive effects, especially for creative committed educators with a vision. In his research on community involvement, Putnam (1996) reported the following:
• people born between 1910 and 1940 are more involved in community affairs than those born more recently
• mobility has an affect on social engagement
• increased mobility of American society has reduced the frequency of social engagement

Another observation about the report was that all the leaders had a clear vision of how they wanted to improve their districts or areas of responsibility, and they followed through on it. Vision is central to a leader's work. Most of us come to work with the idea that we can imagine an improved experience for our students and work to make that happen. Some have the good fortune of supportive boards and faculties who coalesce around a shared vision and work together to make it happen. What about those of us who are caught in the turnover cycle by our own choice or that of others? Will we ever be able to make the change we hoped for when we became leaders? Can we, too, create sustainable change and offer districts and buildings sustainable progress?

We don't need anything to stay the same for too long. Our educational system has stayed the same for far too long! Things are changing much more quickly in the world today and we need to adapt. However, what is good about these successes is their unquestionable result - making things better for children. So, sustainability is judged by a two-fold criterion. Will the change or program be sustained beyond the years of the leader who brought it about? Will it be flexible enough to morph into its next form when the need arises with or without the present leadership?

The best a leader can do is work to distribute leadership, develop leaders within the organization and remember to keep sustainability in mind while leading and celebrating the change. With that in mind we salute the 16 leaders recognized by EdWeek. They represent all the others who come to work each and every day with a vision for improving the experiences of our students and hold, without distraction, to the task at hand. For those who aspire to similar success and find it elusive, a reminder from a Japanese proverb: Fall seven times, stand up eight.

Putnam, R. D. (1995). Tuning in, tuning out: The strange disappearance of social capital in America. PS, Political Science & Politics, 28(4), 664-664. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224969063?accountid=13645

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