Originally Posted May 2011
Shopping, ugh! It is not one of my preferred pass times, but my wife likes to shop. Living in Saudi Arabia, this means I am her wing man and chauffeur for outings to the mall. While waiting patiently in our local GAP franchise, I had the chance to sit and think. I spent my time reflecting on the great professional learning experiences that I have had since my last post in February. Over the past few months I completed an elementary math specialist course, attended a leadership seminar at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the NESA conference in Bangkok, Thailand. It has certainly been a wonderful period of professional learning.
So, while mulling over some big ideas and reflecting on my practices and beliefs, I started to recognize that educational leaders have a lot in common with their khaki clad brethren. Leadership, and change in particular, is a retail experience. In order to establish an effective culture, change a culture, motivate a group, or shift a school, it requires “face to face” experiences, personal attention. The staff at the GAP offer great leadership lessons. Not only do they attend to the requests of shoppers (How can I help you? Let me know if I can get any specific.), they provide individualized feedback (That’s a great color on you! Those pants are a great fit!), and offer new perspectives (Did you see the new cotton tees?). They make their customers feel valued. They are out and about in the store, roaming the floor meeting customers, building personal connections, seeing how they can help. Sometimes they are very active, while at other times they step back, let individuals shop, and help out when required.
Come to think of it, as the educational leader in my classroom, I do this already. My roles is that of a guide, helping guide differentiated student learning, providing individualized feedback, and offering new perspectives and ideas. Effective teachers don’t hide behind their desk. They are out and about, roaming the classroom, monitoring learning, engaging students, sometimes providing direct active assistance, or from a short distance allowing students to explore and build their own understanding.
I’m drawn to leaders who exemplify what’s best about the GAP’s sales staff. As an aspiring principal, I want to be an educational leader who lives outside the office, who helps propel student learning by recognizing and supporting the needs of individuals. If I want to encourage a change or implement a new initiative, I need to build relationships, make personal connections, and communicate clearly. To accomplish this, I need to be present in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, yard, and faculty lounge; talking, listening, observing, and helping out … just like the best teachers and the people at The GAP.