I’ll never forget the joy, pride and stress I felt after I was appointed Superintendent of Schools in Asbury Park, N.J. last year. After taking in the congratulatory comments and well wishes of getting a new job, I stole a few minutes that evening to reflect on what I had accomplished and the experiences I had gained on my journey of self-actualization. Abraham Maslow defines self-actualization as "the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for the individual to become actualized in what he is potentially.” During my moment of reflection, I realized that I had reached the pinnacle as an educational leader by being appointed the new Superintendent of Schools.
As I prepared for my first public meeting, the thoughts of someone raising his or her hand and asking me, “What’s next? What are your plans?” began to dominate my mind. Now that I have the job, the expectation is that I will “Know What To Do” and that people will be expecting me to “Lead” on day one. It did not matter if I was the new Superintendent of Schools, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Director of Special Education, or Building Principal; the expectation would be for me to live up to my resume and cover letter immediately.
Facing the district stakeholders for the first time was stressful as well as exciting. It was a defining moment in which the success of my speech would help shape the district and community’s perception of their new Chief School Administrator. My most pressing concern prior to delivering the speech was this: Which approach should I choose that will garner me credibility, respect, and trust? I opted to employ a systematic approach to lead my learning organization. A systematic approach is one that is repeatable and learnable through a series of step-by-step procedures. I named my approach A.C.E. -- an acronym for Assess, Create, Execute.
Assessment is the process of collecting and evaluating data from varied sources in order to gain a better understanding. I used a mixed-method approach to assess my school district by collecting quantitative data (formative/summative assessments) and gathering qualitative data (interviews/focus groups/observations) in hopes of understanding the community as a whole, culture and climate of the district, and the internal/external challenges of student achievement. The process was very beneficial. It allowed me to use that rich information to support existing assumptions and develop a better understanding of the challenges ahead.
According to Peter Senge (1990), “learning organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” What are your mission, vision, values, and goals? Creating a plan of action is essential when establishing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) goals. The strategic planning process should include all stakeholders when developing an action plan, which establishes high expectations and creates diverse strategies intended to produce desired outcomes.
The execution of the strategic plan is the most difficult aspect of the process. All well-conceived strategic plans that are not implemented are just dreams or wish lists. There are two components that are essential to the execution process -- deployment and reflection. Deployment is the implementation of the strategies. Reflection is the assessment of the strategic results. I call this process Plan, Do and Check.
As I look back on that stressful moment of seven months ago, I recall standing in front of the large crowd in the auditorium delivering my first public speech in my new district. I felt comfortable. Subconsciously, I guess I knew I would A.C.E. this next chapter in the journey of my new self-actualization.
Presently, I have completed the Assess process of my systematic approach and created action pillars to guide our learning organization. Those pillars are: Rebuild, Retool and Restore. Now I am halfway through my Create process of “Building A Brighter Future.” This systematic approach and subsequent experiences have taught me that leading an organization begins with understanding the essential questions of a learning organization: Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there?