Too often in education, we treat our work as if there is a magic solution, an individual hero, or super powered program to move our students and our schools to a place of excellence. We spend our time, energy, and resources searching for the right program to move our students to achieve the goals we’ve set for them. We deliberate over whether we should choose this program or that program and make an attempt to determine if it will “work” in our school or district. However, we often forget that no matter how valuable or impactful a program or concept, it will always be at the mercy of those whose duty is to execute it. We must first work on the people. Then, and only then, can we work on the work.
School improvement is about people improvement. When people do better, get better at their craft, and work better, schools improve. Programs don’t produce excellence. People are at the center of it all. We need school leaders who fully understand this. We need principals and administrators and teachers who accept, without hesitation, that improvement is a continuous concept. We never stop trying to get better at what we do. Regardless of our years of experience, expertise in our subject matter or field, the opportunity to improve your craft is constant. If only leaders would first work to develop a solid understanding and acceptance that people are at the center of any improvement in a school or district. Without an educated, driven, and committed group of people who believe that it is their professional responsibility to get better each and every day, no program, no initiative will succeed. For it is not the program that has the power, it is the people.
Collective effort is the secret to any organizational success. When a leader can rally a group of people around a common goal and everyone commits to giving their best, to improving their individual abilities so that they improve their contribution to the team, amazing things can happen. The real task of leadership is rooted in one’s ability to get a group of individually talented folks to partner for the good of the cause. Collective efficacy needs more attention in our work. We need to spend more time talking about the collective impact of the group and less time discussing the individual merit and talents of folks. No matter how good or great an individual might be, no one person can produce what a focused group of individuals who understand the power of collective effort can produce.
So what gets in the way of us capitalizing on the age old kindergarten concept of group work? Egos. Social conditioning to compare and rank ourselves against our counterparts. We have to focus on being our very best, instead of being concerned with who is the best. We must stand together, and not be distracted by our place in line. The human condition is vulnerable to this and that is why leaders must spend time making a conscious effort to highlight collective effort rather than individual heroism. How do we do this? We intentionally create opportunities for collaboration. We celebrate the work and results of the group. We talk about collective efficacy until we are blue in the face. We explicitly ask others to place their egos on the shelf for the good of the cause. Everyone must work on themselves to be selfless, to put the needs of the group ahead of themselves.
This, I believe, is the secret to producing amazing work. Imagine what might happen if everyone in your grade level, department, school, or district believed in the power of collective effort? What amazing things might you all accomplish? What if we all worked to push ourselves to maximize our personal potential? We must grow the people we have and stop looking for some super hero or super program to fix it all. The power, my friends, is in the people.
I dare you to challenge any group or team you’re associated with to do just that. Building a team who is committed to collective effort is hard work. Working on the program instead of the people is far easier. However, to achieve excellence we must pose the question constantly: Do you now what we could do if we all use our talents to accomplish a goal TOGETHER? While it sounds rather simple, it is the most challenging work of any leader. To get people to put themselves aside for the good of the group, to commit day in and day out to collective effort, is nothing short of a minor miracle. We begin by at least talking about collective effort. It needs to be a part of our conversation in our schools, in our districts, in our lives. If we work it right, some amazing things can be accomplished!
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!