What teachers can learn from marathon training

February 23, 2015

Drew Schrader

Trust the Process

Imagine that you would become a better teacher just by virtue of the fact that you are on the staff of a particular school, in a particular district, in a particular part of the country. That is the power of social capital.

Michael Fullan – Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reformdrewimage

I was reminded of the quote above this past week and my mind went immediately to New Tech Network schools, those that lead them, and those of you about to begin your own journey as leaders in an NTN school The quote resonates so deeply because I firmly believe that NTN schools at their best are the kinds of schools Fullan describes.  From my own first-hand experience as an NTN teacher, I can say that the cultural and professional environment at my school made me a better teacher. Some of this improvement had to do with my personal growth as a facilitator and the learning I was doing.  The growth we saw in the students we were working with, however, could not be explained by mere technical growth in our individual instructional practices,it had to do with the collective learning culture across the school. You will hear teachers and learners describe this systemic feel in terms like “ownership” and “engagement” and “empowerment” but at the end of the day its about nurturing the power of social capital.

In my time working for NTN, I have had the privilege of watching and working with wonderful leaders at our schools and seeing them build that same kind of learning environment in their own schools.  Schools in all kinds of contexts, in all parts of the country, serving all kinds of students have been able to create powerful learning cultures.  In looking at how they were able to do it, it is not an overstatement to say that your perspective and approach as a leader with be the single largest variable in the your school’s ability to develop that culture. 

That reality might seem a bit daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

When we imagine great leadership, we are often drawn towards images like the wonderful viral video from A. Maceo Smith New Tech.  This video is a wonderful celebration of school culture, but we might be tempted to imagine that leadership means being continually out in front, setting the tone like the amazing teacher in the video. While some leaders do lead in this way, it is certainly not the only way, and in many ways it’s the exception rather than the rule in our strongest schools.

Going through my mental list of great NTN schools and the correspondingly great women and men who lead them I can honestly say that they were made great by leading as opposed to coming in being great leaders.  And I think they would agree.  If you were to ask them about their success, in addition to the words above, you’ll likely hear the advice to “trust the process.” This is one of several compelling, sticky ideas you will likely walk away from this week repeating to yourself and others.  The reason why this little mantra has had such staying power for leaders in our network is that it points to the right discipline our leaders need to hold themselves to. That discipline is a set of ideas about how we can best grow the capacity of those around us by engaging and supporting them in collaboratively solving important problems

This week, you will encounter lots of wonderful theories and terminology that will take intuitive and compelling ideas about leadership and learning and reveal layers of depth and nuance that you’ll find yourself continually exploring throughout your time with NTN.  As you grapple with these and other concepts this week, I’d encourage you to keep that notion in the leading quote in your sights.

Imagine leading a school where teachers were better just by virtue of being on the staff of that particular school.

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