I posted this entry for #leadershipday12, but I had actually drafted it about a week beforehand before I had even heard of this idea. Sometimes the universe just works. However, this is more of an abstract thought about leadership and not so much about technology leadership in schools.
My earliest experiences with leadership were as a Boy Scout where I belonged to a troop that was boy-run, meaning that in our troop the scouts took on many of the responsibilities that would normally be done by adult leaders. There were still many adult leaders, but they could not be anyone’s parents, and many of them were former scouts from our troop who returned to give back. I am very proud of the strong tradition in my troop, but I remember noticing that the quality of our troop’s activities really depended on the senior leader among us. Some years we had a really ambitious program of events, and other years it felt like we were always going through the motions. The other thing I noticed was that after we had a very capable leader for a long time, there was no guarantee that the good stuff continued. In fact, it seemed like many times the worst leaders were the ones immediately following the best.
And so somewhere in the years before I was in charge, I decided that the best leaders were those who left a positive mark that stayed around longer after they had left. In other words, the best leaders were the ones who prepared others to succeed after them.
It took many years to become a leader in the troop.
I think a lot of what I learned about leadership from my scout troop influences what I think about how schools are organized. For example, when I came into my current school I learned that there was a robotics activity and was very excited to get involved even though I had no experience, except there was a problem, namely that the old robotics activity advisor had left and when I came in there was no structure in place for a program to continue. When I looked around, I couldn’t find robotics materials that were organized and I didn’t know any other faculty or students who were involved with robotics. To me, no matter how good the old advisor was and how well his kids did with the robotics program, it was a failure because it couldn’t sustain itself when the expert robotics guy left.
Now that I am the most experienced teacher working with our after-school STEM clubs, I am setting out to change that. In my first year with the science club there were hardly any kids involved, but the few kids who were there were obsessed with building a balsa wood tower for a competition. I recognized that we had some students who really had an interest in engineering, but there was really no team around them. After the end of that year, I set some goals: I wanted to recruit a full team of students who had just as much commitment as the original group, I wanted boys and girls to be equally represented (there were no girls in the first year), and most importantly I wanted everyone to want to come back for another year. I am happy to say that I reached all of those goals and there is now an experienced group to build a program around. Furthermore, I believe this group has the character and capacity to form the strong foundation for our programs and become the leaders to help us develop a strong, competitive program. As we get closer to the new school year, I find myself doing frequent mental rehearsals of the speech I want to give to these students, thinking about how exactly to inspire them and challenge them to adopt the leadership for a growing program.
It may not be pretty, but we’re learning.
Over a longer term, my goal is to create a science club that is like my scout troop, one that is run by the students themselves and made stronger by leaders who have been with the program for years and grown into the role of leader by observing others before them.
In the Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons writes about how the secret of the greatest basketball players is that they not only played better than their rivals but that they also challenged their teammates to make themselves better. True leadership is about putting your team first and figuring out how you can help others to become better at what they do. I think far too often we fall into the habit of focusing on our own goals so that we forget that the role of a leader is to serve the group that put him or her in that position. I am hoping that I will help build a program that gives many more kids a chance to be a leader and do something for others in return.