In my work, I hear every day how our academic leaders have risen to the extraordinary challenges of this year. These leaders are constantly reflecting on their choices, wondering how to iterate the systems they’ve designed. When I point out how hard they are working, academic leaders are quick to respond by telling me how their teachers have gone to tremendous lengths to ensure students have the best learning experiences possible.
I’ve come to believe that this is the moment for reflective leadership--for leaders who can face the mirror, and then turn it to help others see themselves. Great leaders are honest about their strengths and their challenges. Academic leaders have the highest standards for themselves, and when they look in that mirror, they often see the gap between aspiration and implementation. That kind of inventory is necessary, but this year it’s especially important to see the climb it takes to get to implementation at all. School leaders have built online programs from scratch and created healthy and safe campuses. They started with nothing in March, and by December, they have robust and flourishing programs.
When academic leaders turn the mirror to the teachers in their communities, they have the opportunity to reflect the climb that’s happened in every classroom. Teachers have been on this upward journey at the side of their administrators. They’ve learned new ways to teach, crafted curricula to meet the needs of the moment, and supported students as never before. In these short and often dark days of December, their ascent needs to be seen and celebrated, too. A reflective opportunity moves this celebration from platitudes (“Thank you for all your hard work”) to specifics: “Your new formative assessment strategy had an immediate impact on student learning.” Focusing the conversation on what’s gone right is only possible if the leader and teacher look for that level of understanding in the mirror.
In 2020, I am prouder than ever to work in education. If I could hold a mirror up and outward myself, I’d show you how your caring and support has made a difference to your community. I’d show you that schools, in all their varied forms, have provided the stability and warmth that children and adolescents need to weather this crisis. I’d show you that you are helping to grow the leaders who will build a more just and healthy world when we emerge from the pandemic.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)