Hitting the Mark and Being Spot On

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This week I attended my first ever ASCD Conference in Boston. It was a National Conference in my own backyard, I had to go. The highlight of the conference for me was listening to General Colin Powell speak on Monday. The title of his talk was “Diplomacy: Persuasion, Trust, and Values.” The room was packed and we all knew it would be good, but were hoping for greatness! When he was introduced and walked to the stage, he looked at the crowd and said: “Hello Boston!” He did so with such a command and presence that a colleague looked at me and said, “This is going to be great.” And he was right! 

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His 90-minute presentation was engaging, inspiring, and empowering. What follows are some excerpts from his presentation that resonated with me:

-You need to trust others by giving them the authority to act.

I have always believed in hiring good people and trusting them to do the job they were hired to do. I have found that when people are empowered to do their jobs, take risks, and do what they feel is right for their school and students, great things happen. This all starts with trust and not micromanaging staff.

-I don’t want to be the best, I want to do MY best.

This quote hit me. People many times strive to be the best, but is that even attainable? I will never dunk a basketball regardless of how hard I work and how much I try. All I can do is my best! As leaders we want teachers and students to do the best that THEY can do. This is powerful and has been a cause for reflection for me.

-Every soldier wants to be part of a unit that they can brag about. It’s the same with schools.

Soldiers take great pride in the work that they do and they want to be a part of a unit that they can brag about. General Powell gave some examples of this. And he is right, it is the same for schools. Twitter has become a great resource for this. We are all telling our stories on Twitter on a daily basis. We are bragging about the great things happening in schools. People want to be a part of something great and we should be doing more celebrating of our schools not less!

-There are no unimportant people in an organization. You must value every single person.

It does take a village to raise a child and the same is true in our schools. Think about what happens every morning before a student steps into a classroom and sees a teacher. Our superintendent meets bus drivers to start the year and he tells them that they are the first face many students see to start off their school day. A smile and a hello are important. It makes such a difference. Many schools have a before school breakfast program. Many kids see cafeteria workers as the first person to start the day. Our kids that walk to school are greeted by a crossing guard. The list goes on and on, each and every one of these people is critical to an organization and the success of students.

-You can’t be insecure and be a good leader. You have to be secure, but you can’t be secure without people telling you the truth.

What separates the great leaders from the good ones is the ability to hire people who challenge and push you. Too many people hire “yes men” and always told what they want to hear. The best people I have ever worked with and the best schools I have been a part of had leaders who were not afraid to be challenged and told the truth.

-You can’t inspire with dollars or promotions; people are inspired by people.

I thought about this statement and about the great educators I have been fortunate to work with over the last 20 years. I often did my best and worked my hardest not for a promotion but because I did not want to let them down. I felt their energy on a topic or a mission and that inspired me to work harder and be the best that I could be.

In doing some research on General Powell I came across this image, I think it does a great job summarizing his presentation to us at ASCD and offers some great words of wisdom leadership and education! Thank you ASCD for having him at the conference.

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