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On Bold Moves

School leaders have faced much during this pandemic, including a dislocation of how employees work; how students, families, and other stakeholders (including boards) behave; and what constitutes successful learning. Leaders have been remarkable in shifting in highly pragmatic and ingenious ways, and I hope that they don’t necessarily revert to how things were before the pandemic, once we have moved into a sustainable ‘state of being’ (hopefully in 2021).

Schools are becoming increasingly ambidextrous organizations (Robert Duncan, 1976), even though they may be unaware of it. Leaders must focus simultaneously on delivering current educational practice while preparing for the future. That being said, really bold schools have decided not just to prepare for the future, they’re moving into it right now. If those shifts become permanent (if there is such a thing…), then it means that certain schools are going through a recalibration, the full extent of which may not be recognized or appreciated for several years.

In particular, what I enjoy seeing is when leaders move beyond their to-do lists and into a state of becoming. In other words, they are striving to be that which they are identifying as things that need to be done. In short, this movement equates to an evolution of their role as leader: they are calibrating the change that is needed. Sometimes they have help in thinking through these things (e.g., a forward-thinking professional association for schools), but too often they do not (associations: pay attention to this!). Thus we have the frame before us of momentous self-calibration, with serious (hopefully all good…) implications for the school.

There are a few items for consideration in the current climate, based on bold leaders who are moving forward:

  • How might school leaders, on behalf of their schools, aspire to increasing the school’s impact not just incrementally, but following 10X thinking?

  • To increase impact on that scale, what if schools were to rethink and re-engineer their operating models? How would that look? What role might faculty and staff up-skilling or re-skilling play? How might one accomplish that at scale (say, with a staff of 50 to 350)? Are boards ready to approve reallocation of budget to that degree?

  • Where and why does a hybrid learning approach offer benefits that align with the school’s values, and how might a school go about making those changes part of “how we do school?”

  • Where might a school leader draw the line, in terms of workday or workweek expectations for all faculty and staff? How best might we support everyone with well-being programs that benefit the entire faculty and staff…and therefore the community as a whole, including expectations for students?

  • Are our barriers to boldness more about our own technical limits, or are they more about our mindsets? Given how much we talk (correctly or incorrectly) about Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets, have we considered our own?

  • What should leaders (and schools) say “no” to, or just outright stop doing? How might that decision help the school to move more quickly toward a desired future state?

McKinsey’s Strategy and Corporate Finance Practice has famously shown that companies that make bold moves go from being average performers to top-quintile performers over 10 years. 10 years?! Yes, interestingly enough, it’s not an immediate shift; the changes take time to settle in precisely because they are foundational in nature. They write, “Making one or two bold moves more than doubles the likelihood of making such a shift; making three or more makes it six times more likely.”

What’s your commitment to bold moves?

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