Friends, I hope this finds you well. I learned this week that my dad has an appointment for his first Covid vaccination, so I’m very happy and relieved about that. Everything else pales in comparison, actually.
Appropriately, then, this Coaching Letter is a follow up to the resources from last week on taking care of self and others, since the resources I included elicited so much comment that I was sorry I hadn’t done a better job of going through my files for others.

  1. From the Harvard Business School newsletter, Working Knowledge (which I recommend signing up for, scroll to the bottom), Good Leadership is an Act of Kindness Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand: one of the criciticisms she’s faced over teh years is that “I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”
  2. From the Harvard Business Review, Causes of Burnout and How to Avoid Them (and let me remind you that the HBR website allows you to read 3 articles a month for free, and if you register on their website that number goes up to 6)
  3. The Mental Balancing Act for School Leaders from Educational Leadership. I should have pointed out that this whole issue is about mental health for educators, and is free to access even if you are not a subscriber to Ed Leadership. Here’s the Table of Contents. This is a very personal story of someone who allowed his work to damage his health.
  4. From Ed Week last year, How to Take Care of the Adults (and Yourself) in Your School Community (co-authored by friend of the Center Josh Starr).
  5. And three more from HBR: Be Grateful More Often: as I try to point out often, gratitude does double duty–it makes the person expressing gratitude calmer and more content (which works even if all you are doing is writing down what you are grateful for), but it also has a powerful impact on those being thanked: they feel better, and their sense of social worth is increased.
  6. This Two-Minute Morning Practice Will Make Your Day Better The index card habit of writing down three things: I will focus on… I am grateful for… I will let go of… (Mine for today: the slides for the strategic planning workshop, the vaccine for my dad, sending in a conference proposal.)
  7. The Surprising Power of Simply Asking Coworkers How They’re Doing. “When people feel like they beong at work, they are more productive, motivated, engaged and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential.” 3.5 seems oddly precise. Nevertheless, nothing new here, but a useful set of reminders for how to increase a sense of belonging: seize the small opportunities to connect; check bias at the door–check-ins are a time to listen, not persuade; assume positive intent; it’s OK to be vulnerable; be consistent and accountable.

Not coincidentally, I found myself telling this story several times over the last couple of weeks. A few years ago the Center was part of a consortium of Connecticut educational organizations under a grant from CSDE known as LEAD Connecticut. The grant paid for lots of cool stuff (that’s the technical term), including a series of workshops led by Michael Fullan. I took copious notes, being a big fan of his writing, and talked to lots of people afterwards about what he said. What struck me at the time was how many people referred to a particular line that he used: that it was OK to get a C in compliance.

The line was part of a larger point about choosing the “right drivers” for educational change, and eschewing the “wrong drivers”. Each of the following bullets, from this document on Fullan’s website, names a wrong driver and its corresponding right driver:

  1. Accountability: using test results, and teacher appraisal, to reward or punish teacher and schools vs capacity building;
  2. Individual teacher and leadership quality: promoting individual vs group solutions;
  3. Technology: investing in and assuming that the wonders of the digital world will carry the day vs instruction;
  4. Fragmented strategies vs integrated or systemic strategies.

(Can I just point out the relationship between these drivers and what Jennie and I write about in The Strategy Playbook—just in case you haven’t checked it out yet.)

Anyway, he was making the point that there are ways to make time for the right drivers, and one of those is to not strive for perfection on the things that don’t really matter for improved student learning. Here’s the quotation from Leading Quality Change:

If you want to save time and build your fun, innovative, and creative environments for results stop fighting city hall. The return on your time investment is rarely worth it. The new paradigm that will free you up from your time on meaningless tasks is—You do not have to get an ‘A’ in all compliance requirements— A ‘C’ will suffice. This is a tough concept for educators who always want an ‘A’ in everything. Compliance is often about meeting minimum requirements not getting a perfect score. Some educators are calling this concept creative insubordination because it allows one to control their time and priorities without being insubordinate.

At the time, I was surprised that this struck a chord with so many educational leaders—especially superintendents. But with all the stress and overload that people are dealing with at the moment, it makes a lot more sense to me now. Part of what I have been trying to do lately, along with partners in various projects, is repeat this idea: that not everything is of equal importance, and that, along with student learning, leaders and coaches should prioritize taking care of others, but especially themselves.

OK, I have a lot still to get ready for next week (workshop on racial identity and socialization on Monday, several meetings/workshops with districts on their strategic plans, several coaching conversations with very smart and engaged school leaders, the first Strategic Planning webinar on Wednesday, and a workshop with aspiring principals on Thursday), so this is it for this week. I hope you’re hanging in there. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. Best, Isobel

Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106
Author of The Coaching Letter

Author with Jennie Weiner of The Strategy Playbook for Educational Leaders: Principles and Practices Routledge

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