When we think about what hooks us to popular reality television shows, it’s often the characters that pull us in each week. Is it the odd or eccentric idiosyncrasies that leave us baffled and intrigued about what they might do next? Do we find ourselves trying to predict their behaviors and how others around them might respond? Trying to decipher the needs and behaviors of others is a critical skill that helps make leaders effective.
The shows that fascinate me most are the ones with contestants who feel they have an amazing talent or ability in singing or dancing. There are typically three types of characters that emerge on these shows:
- Those who have had little to no professional training but seem to have a gift in their heart that defines who they are. Although they may lack technical skills, they have the heart, passion, spirit, and commitment to be the best.
- Those who have trained to do this one thing for most of their lives. They have sacrificed other activities to hone their craft.
- Those who decided to try the activity to see what might come of it. Although they have little to no skill or ability — or even commitment to the craft — they thought, “Why not me?”
Although all three types appear on the show, they don’t all last. What is that defining moment that helps distinguish the winning contestants from the rest?
Practice, Consistency, Beliefs, and Peers
Why this analogy in a blog about professional learning? Because we have reached a tipping point as educators and professional learning leaders. If we understand what we need to do to transform schools, why aren’t we engaging in those practices? In Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin says, “Most of us would be embarrassed to add up the total hours we’ve spent on our jobs and compare that number with the hours we’ve given to other priorities that we claim are more important, like our families; the figures would show that work is our real priority. Yet after all those hours and all those years, most people are just okay at what they do” (Colvin, 2008).
You may feel you have a natural gift for educator learning, but without deliberate, consistent practice, it is an underdeveloped talent. So what is the next step? Learn more about coaching or leadership to better refine your skills to get better at what you do. Have you reached the pinnacle? Are you satisfied with where you are as a leader? Do you feel like there is so much more you can learn and do?
Let’s go back to the three individuals.
Contestant 1: Has the heart, lacks the skill.
I once worked with an individual who wanted desperately to move into a position as a school-based leader. She volunteered at events, bridged connections with leaders across the district, and had an extremely agreeable personality, but she didn’t have a strong content or coaching foundation to help her achieve her goal. She let her desires be known to all and became a candidate for a leadership position. During the interview stage, she discovered that she couldn’t compete with candidates with strong content knowledge and interest in learning more about the coaching work. She didn’t get the position.
Fast-forward six years. This same individual re-emerged with a renewed interest in becoming a coach. She had participated in professional development and implemented the work in her practice. She read books and sought mentorship to support her professional growth. She participated in a rigorous coaching preparatory training to help her not only learn the fundamentals of being a coach, but also practice those skills with guided support. She is now a successful administrator in her school district.
Her commitment to getting better through focused and deliberate practice gave her the expertise and stamina to eventually achieve a goal that once seemed unattainable.
Becoming the best educator you can be will only come from identifying what skills you need to master and taking deliberate steps to get better.
Contestant 2: The focused practitioner.
When one of my colleagues, a rock star of a teacher, joined our team, he followed, adopted, and implemented our protocols, tools, and templates like most conscientious new employees. After a couple of months, he realized he wanted to take his work to the next level. He was unsure initially of his full capacity, but he wanted to try. He independently pursued collegiate programs that would offer a fresh, new lens to the work in a large educational organization. He read, researched, and studied multiple sources to expand his knowledge base and strategically planned for appropriate places to implement his new learning.
What helped solidify his careful, focused study were his intentional efforts to enhance the work of the team. He learned and he shared. He tried and failed and he shared. He had big wins and he shared. He modeled the importance of practice. He taught the team how to dream, work hard, celebrate, and build followership.
By training and focusing your efforts, you have the opportunity to not only advocate for the teachers you support, but also advocate for the work you have learned to do. By becoming a great educator, you will help transform teaching and learning within your organization and help educators reinvest in their growth and development.
Contestant 3: The growth mindset.
I worked with a colleague who takes on every impossible situation head-first. If there was a new initiative and we needed support with planning and training, he volunteered. He hadn’t yet mastered the skills and abilities to lead professional development, but he was particularly skilled at finding his area of expertise in the content and owning the delivery. He studied and practiced the other components and continued to polish his craft.
He holds a growth mindset. It should not be confused with holding unrealistic expectations. Instead, it is about making the commitment to learn. He demonstrated sound decision making in identifying gaps in knowledge and practice and committed to getting better. He is the contestant who wins your heart, and you celebrate the small wins along the way.
We are learning more and more about Carol Dweck’s (2007) work with growth mindset: the belief that with focused, consistent practice, we can achieve well beyond our natural gifts. With coaching and support, we can do even more. We also know, statistically, everyone does not achieve world-recognized greatness. They achieve the best that they are capable of doing.
This is your opportunity. Don’t let tenure, years of experience, title, or status be your resting place as an educator. Let this be the launch of a new journey. Continue to learn. Continue to grow. Continue to practice.
If you think you can lead, don’t let the training be the finale of your learning efforts. Practice, practice, practice.
Colvin, G. (2008). Talent is overrated. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.