by Twan Claiborne, Dean of Students – 10th Grade
The NAIS School Leadership Institute is a four day institute in Leesburg, VA. The goal of the institute is to examine and assess the results of the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI), an assessment of my personal strengths and areas for growth as a leader completed by myself and a combination of colleagues and supervisors. The LPI assesses how well a individual does across The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership:
- Model The Way
- Inspire a Shared Vision
- Challenge the Process
- Enable Others to Act
- Encourage the Heart
The first day served as an introduction to the institute, grounding the work to be done and offering an overview of how that work will look over the next three days. The facilitators established community norms and guidelines to further aid in grounding the work (similar to our school meeting norms). They opened the day with the following quote, “The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” (Marcel Proust). They wanted us to understand that attending this conference is just a stepping stone in a never ending journey on crafting our leadership skills.
After further introductions and outlining further ideas, pillars, and practices of exemplary leadership, we broke up into smaller groups – called home groups – to review the results of the LPI. We were given time to read, reflect, and take notes from the LPI, as it was a lot of information to process and some results could be upsetting. Many of my group members expressed a wide range of emotions, yet we all shared that we had a level of self awareness that we don’t often catch. The evaluation helped us achieve that level of awareness. Our facilitator provided an important idea to consider as we sorted through the results: think about who we asked and why we asked them. Additionally, it’s important to give ourselves grace as we receive this information. These were folks who cared about our growth professionally and personally (and our facilitators noted that growth in leadership is personal and professional).
The second day was a further deep dive into the results of the LPI. We looked at the results under the first two practices: Model the Way and Inspire a Shared Vision. In a large group, we created a list of values from a curated list of words. These words would serve as a lens for us to process the results in the upcoming sessions. In the Model The Way session, we analyzed the results of the survey and came up with concrete ways to model the values we espouse, in addition to thinking about how those values connect to our school’s value and how to create a value list within our respective teams. In the Inspire a Shared Vision session, we talked about our stories and personal journeys. An important part of being a leader is displaying your humanity. As we move up in the hierarchy, we can sometimes disconnect ourselves from the people we work with or who work under us. Furthermore, we looked at ways we can inspire folks on our teams to tell their stories, and how to prioritize time for that in the team building process.
The third day began with examining our identities and how we show up in any given space. This line of thinking informed the following two sessions for the day: Challenge the Process and Enable Others to Act. In the Challenge the Process session, we thought of a challenge in our schools and how to approach enacting change for that challenge. Additionally, we thought about our own comfort levels in engaging with this type of work and how to work through those personal roadblocks. In the Enable Others to Act session – the most personally difficult session – we began thinking about what leaders in our lives did to help us feel supported and how we can personally embody those attributes. Through a role play, we discussed how nonverbal communication can impact how meetings without clear initiatives, established norms, and non equity in voices heard can lead to derision. The facilitators explained the importance of everyone being on the same page in understanding the purpose of the meeting.
The fourth and final day served as a wrap up to a jam packed institute. The facilitators queried us to think about what is our metaphorical bike, something that seemed intuitive but is not. We then broke into our final session, Encourage the Heart. In small groups, we brainstormed ways to celebrate our colleagues authentically and on their terms. Finishing the Institute, each group performed skits highlighting personal and professional revelations from this four day experience.
I can say unequivocally that this institute is the most important professional development opportunity I’ve attended in my career as a working professional. I feel I gained concrete, actionable steps that I can take upon my return to the school. There were a plethora of lessons that will stick with me and inform my practice for years to come. I plan to focus on the following three areas:
- Model the Way
- Inspire a Shared Vision
- Challenge the Process
In initial meetings with my various teams, I will challenge them to think of their values, think of values that we want to work on with the tenth grade, and create opportunities for the 10th graders to think of their own value. The ultimate goal is to find the links between the values which will guide our work with them over the course of the year (and beyond). When everyone is on the same page and has a voice in forging identity, there is greater accountability and ownership across the board. The greatest lesson I learned from the School Leadership Institute is that leadership is about relationships; I am not alone in this journey. Furthermore, I don’t have to move through the MMFS community, and by extension the world, with that lens. I needed to gain a new perspective to see the fuller picture.