IE and Authentic Leadership

Here at IE, we are often asked where we stand on the debate between charter and district schools (and, occasionally on ‘new models’ of schools, private and parochial schools, as well). While we enjoy working with a range of schools (and organizations that support them) our answer to the question is pretty consistent – we are agnostic on the debate itself, but hold firm to a simple maxim; that great schools – regardless of their formal affiliation – require great leaders, and that great leadership can be developed.

Our approach to how to grow leadership has a number of research-based pillars, and I wanted to explore one of them here – authenticity .

In a July, 2016 article in the Harvard Business Review, The Truth About Authentic Leaders, HBS faculty member William George asserts that contemporary organizations require “a new kind of leader, whose character is the ingredient that matters most—more than characteristics or style.” George challenges older models of leadership, including the “great man theory” and competency-based leadership models. “Previous generations of (leaders) spent more time trying to “market” themselves as leaders, rather than undertaking the transformative work that leadership development requires.”

“Rather than trying to redefine what it means to be authentic, research and leadership development programs should focus on how leaders develop their authenticity.” In response to the question of the ‘how’ and what this sort of ‘transformative work that develops authenticity in leaders’ looks like, George (after conducting in-depth interviews with 172 authentic leaders) elaborates on a few points:

Explore their life stories and their crucibles in order to understand who they are.

  • Engage in reflection and introspective practices by … step(ping) back from the 24/7 world, turn off all electronics, and reflect on what is most important to them.
  • Seeking honest feedback from colleagues, friends, and subordinates about themselves and their leadership.
  • Understand their leadership purpose so they can align people around a common purpose.
  • Become skilled at tailoring their style to their audiences, imperatives of the situation, and readiness of their teammates to accept different approaches.

We love Professor George and his ideas – mostly because they are sound and well constructed (as found in his books like Discover Your True North and Authentic Leadership). We also love Professor George because his list of ‘’recommended steps people undertake to develop a deeper understanding of themselves in order to become authentic leaders’ reads like the Inspiring Educators’ catalog of program offerings – Telling Your Story in Leadership, Presence of a School Leader- Relationship Building, (the having) of Challenging Conversations, Finding Your Passionate Purpose, Roles of a School Leader, and more.

At I.E., we take the core of Professor George’s idea, “The essence of authentic leadership is emotional intelligence, or EQ, as articulated by Daniel Goleman.”, and help school leaders with what we call ‘E.Q. in action’, accelerating the process of their growth as a complement to the technical and managerial elements of their professional development they have received / are receiving.

We are thrilled with the response we have been receiving – especially form those relatively early in their ‘career arc’ – it reinforces the belief we subscribe to that the way to help schools change for the better is to try a different approach to growing school leaders.

Another HBS faculty member Lakshmi Ramarajan notes, the process of learning, growing, and developing an integrated self is a process of construction and meaning–making. As leaders explore their life stories and crucibles, and process their experiences, they develop deeper understanding of themselves and feel increasingly comfortable being authentic. IE’s vision is a world in which horizons for every child – regardless of their zip code – are limitless, and we believe that schools (whatever their formal structure) can further us in that vision. A key ingredient is inspired leadership, the kind that authentic leaders can provide.

We provide those leaders with the tools to transform their schools as they, the leaders themselves, are transformed.

For more information about IE, please visit our "Program Offerings"

The Inspiring Educator Difference

From Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty-First Century) to ‘No Child Left Behind’, there exists a broad consensus that schools can play a critical role in addressing the pressing social issues of our day – from income inequality, narrowing the opportunity gap, and even easing the racial tensions that often divide us.  Yet, the challenges confrontingAmerica education seem chronic and the promise of what it can do to help realize our common vision remains distant despite massive investments. Research and common sense remind us that great schools need great leadership – leadership that will enlist others in a common pursuit of excellence for all students. Studies as a recent Wallace Foundation study, as well as numerous analyses of data on student achievement all highlight excellent leadership at the individual school level as a key and underutilized lever for student success.

Why Now?
The education reform movement has blossomed in recent years as a response to the crisis in public education.  Amongst the key direction the movement recently has taken is investment in school leadership, and these efforts have steadily focused on ‘tactical’ leadership – essentially how to better manage the schools in America and those who work in them.  Tactical leadership’s complement - adaptive leadership – provides a practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments.  Adaptive leaders learn and are able to both individually and collectively take on the gradual but meaningful process of change.  Those with developed adaptive leadership skills not only discover the capacity to integrate their work with their tactical leadership training, they find that these new approaches  accelerate tactical leadership development.  The net result? Creating a more positive school climate and ultimately, improved student outcomes.

Why Us?
The programs of Inspiring Educators have demonstrated that they can raise the capacity of all sorts of school leaders, especially those in underserved communities. Inspiring Educators provides world-class leadership development in small groups using experiential theater-based exercises and intensive individualized coaching. Our clients have indicated that our programs can re-invigorate schools around mission and lead to greater cohesion, retention of staff, and overall improved school climate which leads to student success. Our approach builds the capacity of leaders, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of change, with a focus on growing individual authenticity and team effectiveness.

At Inspiring Educators, we envision schools across the country led by educators whose deep commitments and passion for realizing the vision and mission of their schools is effectively articulated and integrated through the daily life of their schools.  We see schools transformed by leaders who have tapped their authentic capacity to touch the lives of those around them by engaging, persuading and inspiring their staffs, students and communities and thus accelerating the pace and impact of educational change in America.

Big Schools, Small Schools and Common Threads of Leadership

What do school leaders in New York City have in common with staff of a 67-student no tuition parochial school in New Bedford, MA?

Visiting two different programs

Fall, 2016

Late this past summer, I had the opportunity to visit some of the programs we run here at Inspiring Educators.  The visits provide me with a great opportunity to meet the participants, the decision makers, check in with our facilitators, and overall get a sense of how the programs are running and how they are being received.  I often arrive just before a particular program, see if there’s any way I can be of help setting things up and / or address any last-minute details, and then often sit in on the very beginning of a session,  sharing a reflection or two about I.E.

Overall, it’s a great way for me to stay connected with our work, ideally keeping the quality of our programs -  and the satisfaction of our partners - high, and observing where we may have opportunities to improve.

But there is another aspect of these visits that I’ve come to recognize – that I get to observe and understand the work of our clients / partners much, much better by being at their sites, listening to the school professionals, and largely operating as a ‘fly on the wall’ while the teams begin their work together.

For example, at the start of the school year, I was present for programs of both one of our largest clients – New York City Public Schools – and  one of our smallest clients – Our Sisters School in New Bedford, MA.  One could say these two schools / schools systems couldn’t have been more different.  Yet, I’m left with the sense of how much they are alike.  Let me explain…..

Our training for the New York City Public Schools was for a new cohort of ‘mentor principals’;  successful New York City Public School principals who each will work with a number of new incoming principals for the Department of Education.  Some will retain their current principal duties, and others will have them deferred for a year.  The group I visited was the first of three cohorts with which we will worked, and together, this entire group of about 25 master principals is charged with helping coach and mentor close to 250 new principals.  Thus, the reach of these mentor principals is enormous.

We were graciously housed in the offices of the New York City Department of Human Resources, on the 41st floor of World Trade Center Tower Number 4, with stunning views of the East River.  I was delighted to find that these principals were quick, talked rapid fire, laughed a lot, and were surprisingly energetic – many after twenty-plus years in the New York City public school system.

Our Sisters’ School is a parochial school, located in the unused wing of the local synagogue (the only one left from six).  OSS educates 67 middle-school girls, whose families must qualify for assistance under federal guidelines.  In essence, if they can afford to pay any tuition, they can’t be accepted.  The school gets no government funding of any kind, and every bit of its annual budget (around $1 million) must be fundraised.  All told, including support staff, there are around 17 employees at OSS.  There’s not really a gym, or a cafeteria, or an assembly hall. 

We worked with most of their (staff which included their principal) on ‘Telling Your Story in Leadership’,.  It was a warm day, the windows were opened, and the lights were off to keep the room cooler.  When we went around to introduce the program and ourselves, the staff (a number of whom I had met in the time prior to the program) seemed expectant, if reserved.  Yet – to a person – they were surprisingly energetic about their work with adolescent girls from minority families (most were Portuguese), under some remarkably challenging circumstances.

It was this common thread that impressed me – the energy and the optimism demonstrated by these two groups of school professionals in widely different settings, but yet with common challenges.  Both trainings were designed to give these staff the tools they need in order to be more effective in their work, and to help them engage and ultimately persuade others.  What I hadn’t anticipated is how ready both groups were for the work, how engaged they took to the work, and ultimately, how inspiring they were – at least to me – by their obvious commitments.

All this in light of a flurry of comment as the school year is staring on the support given education.  For example, “The seven-year-old economic recovery has not been kind to the American public education system. In May 2008, as the Great Recession was just beginning, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers and other workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This past May, they employed just 8.2 million — despite public-school enrollments that the Department of Education estimated have risen by more than 1 million students during the same period. ….

The staff cuts reflect a broader pullback in education funding in recent years. ……. Per-student spending fell 2.4 percent after adjusting for inflation.”,  reported a recent analysis.

 The attitudes of these educators in New York and New Bedford – two remarkably different settings reflect the ongoing commitment of educators in spite of the soft support for their work.  It speaks to the depth of their commitment, to their drive, passion and determination to make a real difference in the lives of young people.  And their quick entry into the work of Inspiring Educators demonstrates their personal capacity to be lifelong learners, operating with a ‘growth mindset.

 Inspiring Educators,  is proud to work with partners such as New York City Public Schools, Our Sisters’ School and dozens of others of all sizes around the country, helping their leaders and educators become more authentic and more effective in their work.  We share common beliefs about the importance of leadership in schools and how that can help close the opportunity gap.  What I learn form visits such as these is that we’re not simply in the business of Inspiring Educators;  in the process we get to meet a whole lot of inspiring educators.