Even we older folk remember our childhood days when Grandma or an aunt, having not seen us for six months, said this with wide eyes and a smile. We liked it, sort of, because we all wanted to be taller. On the other hand, sometimes we heard a parent, even a teacher, out of frustration, say, “Grow up!’ or “When are you going to grow up?” That growth had nothing to do with our bodies; it meant that we were not as mature in character or behavior as the critic thought we should be.
In the adult world, maybe particularly in schools, the word for teacher, leader, or board member growth is “professional development,” which means, finally, “adults getting better at their jobs”; they’re growing up, even 60-year-olds, even really smart 20-year-olds. It’s hard for some of us to think we have more to learn to grow up more in our school roles. I remember a mentor in teaching, already in his 50s, telling me that he had always worried that he would get to be 40, rest in the rut of the usual, and grow no further.
Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking about organizational culture in the context of my own school system and in the context of other schools with which I work. My reflections on this topic are shaped by a mixture of my own experiences and random readings and coursework, but are most heavily influenced by the work of Andy Hargreaves and the leadership/teaching of Lloyd Den Boer.
I’ve worked in leadership in three different Christian school settings, evaluated and consulted for many others, and served on several boards for not-for-profit organizations. I have seen thriving organizational cultures in which those involved flourish personally while also enabling those around them—colleagues and students alike—to flourish as well. These thriving cultures I would like to call authentically collegial communities. These are the kinds of school cultures where faculty and staff work together to enhance student learning because they believe it is the right thing to do, but also because they feel a strong desire to do so. They are also the places where faculty and staff work well together, not only despite their differences, but often because their differences come together to create strength. The leadership in authentically collegial communities serves to facilitate and support authentic collaboration, to highlight needs, and to inspire toward a direction—hopefully the fulfillment of the school’s vision and mission.
With thanks to those who contacted me to engage in the conversation regarding communities of candor and care, I want to extend the discussion we started with my last entry. I am motivated to continue the conversation because I feel it is an essential component of competent Christian school leadership, and because the importance of conducting critical conversations is an issue that seems to be all around me.
Here’s a fictionalized example of a difficult staffing issue. A principal, who has been at her current school for a few years, is dealing with a staff member who has been there for over 25 years. The principal’s overriding frustration is that the issues with this staff member have been present for those 25 years but have not been dealt with. This staff member has been left to assume that these practices are acceptable when they are not, and sadly, the parents who have expressed concerns over those years have come away with the assumption that these poor practices are just something they need to put up with. In my personal experience as a Christian school leader, evaluator, consultant, and colleague, this scenario is all too common.
One of the most powerful parts of our role as leaders in Christian education lies in the area of initiating difficult conversations. These are the conversations that involve confronting a staff or faculty member regarding a questionable comment or action they have demonstrated.
They are the conversations wherein the question of whether someone is a good fit for ABC Christian School is broached. They are the conversations that require us to, as tactfully as possible, directly address an issue or problem that is affecting student learning/mission fulfillment in our schools. And I think they are one of the most important actions we take, because they get to the heart of why we exist and whether we are going to faithfully pursue our vision and mission.