Like more than 103 million viewers, I sat and watched the Super Bowl this past weekend with the preconceived notion that the New England Patriots would dismantle the Philadelphia Eagles. As a lifelong Jets fan ( 1 Super Bowl and years and years of heartache), I was rooting for the Eagles even though their chances were slim. I mean, how does a team forced to start countless backup players including their Quarterback have a chance to defeat the greatest coach of all time Bill Belichick as well as the greatest Quarterback of all time Tom Brady. I, along with the rest of the nation was reminded very quickly that a team everyone pulling in the same direction, can beat even the greatest players and leaders of all time.
Although Nick Foles was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the game, I would argue that the Eagles Head Coach Doug Peterson should have been named as the MVP. Not only did his players believe in every decision that he made, but each of them had direct input in the design of the game plan for the two weeks leading up to the game. So I ask this…. What is the true impact of leadership in a School District or Business? Can a dollar amount be placed within an organization on the impact of one incredible leader?
In the case of the Philadelphia Eagles, Doug Peterson is worth multiple millions of dollars that far exceed his contract. As the city of Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl Champion, endorsements as well as Eagles merchandise will make the team millions upon millions of dollars. When researching the hire of Mr. Peterson, numerous reports made it clear that it took a lot of grooming by another highly successful Head Coach Andy Reid as well as his ability to lead people that stood out in the interview process. Notice how I did not say leader of men. During the interview process, Mr. Peterson spoke about his plans for the entire organization as a whole from the team to the trainers to the facility managers. Even though it was not his specific role to lead these other groups, he understood that the value of all of those departments to his players was critical in the success of the entire organization. So…. how can this be related back to education?
I believe that when leaders wake up each day, they believe that they are going to make an impact. They are going to influence someone in the right direction that will in turn have an impact on others. They do not wake up with the mindset of “how am I going to get more money”, or more notoriety for the job that they are doing. I do believe that an organizational leader must come from the Administrative team but does not necessarily have to be the Superintendent themselves. The Superintendent’s job is similar to an owner of a sports franchise. It is their job to get the highest quality people and put them in the right places to succeed. It is their job to handle most of the behind the scenes work in order to give their people the best opportunity to make that impact with the fewest number of roadblocks and then coach their leaders to success. A head coach or organizational change maker, then has to take those directives and carry out the Superintendent’s (or Owners) plans.
In my current school district, it is evident to me that we have some big time leaders. Along with the backing of our Superintendent, we are all given the ability to work together and make an impact on our staff every day. Again, please notice I didn’t just say teachers. We are constantly coaching and being coached. Our focus is on student learning and that is impacted by every employee in our district. Can the best student along with the best teacher be as successful in the dirtiest or most unsafe conditions? I would argue that they can not. It is evident that our Security, Administrative Assistants and Custodial staffs are equally as important to the success of our students as our Principals and Classroom Teachers. Great leadership means working with every group of employees every day to empower them to make the best decisions for our students and use their collective voice to make things better. In my department specifically, I can readily admit that all of the members of my team are coming up with the best ideas on how to make things better, not just me. As the leader, I can then work with the team to mold their ideas into the final product or process that may be needed. I try to emulate Coach Peterson’s style and remind every member of my team about their value to our department and our school district. Think this story of the Eagles is a one hit wonder and the best coach and players always wins? Have you heard of the “Miracle on Ice” when a bunch of teenagers from the United States knocked off the Soviet Union team full of the best players in the world with the best coaches in the world to advance to the Gold medal game in the 1980 Olympic games? Obviously these are two huge stories that have come out of the sports world.
Every day, there are people in all of our schools that are looked upon in the same manner as Doug Peterson or Herb Brooks (the coach of the U.S. olympic hockey team). These leaders bring everyone together and are focused on the big prizes at the end. In the education world it means having a direct impact on the education of our students. Are we empowering our teachers to take risks in the classroom? Are we letting them deviate from the original game plan in order to have that big impact moment with their students. In the sports world it means calling a trick play on 4th down and 1 from the 1 yard line with 38 seconds left in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. As Peterson would say, “I trust my players. I trust my coaches. I trust my instincts,” A good leader always does. Isn’t it about time that we encourage our school leaders to do the same thing? Think outside the box and allow the people that you hired to do their jobs. In the meantime, coach them up to prepare for that moment. Remember how critical practice is for the success of a sports team. Think about how much practice a new teacher gets prior to teaching their class for the first time. To me, it is not about me spending more time in classrooms and working with students. Do I miss that? Sure. That being said, I already have the best teachers to do that. It is my job to make sure that those teachers are constantly receiving meaningful, job- embedded Professional Development to enhance their instructional practices and for me to continue to empower them with constant positive reinforcement so that they can continue to take those risks without a fear of being thought of a a failure or even worse, losing their job.
Obviously I am a HUGE sports fan and love to watch great moments happen. In the education world, we need to reexamine the value of our great leaders and the true impact that they can make on an entire organization when they are empowered to do their jobs. We also need to constantly review our Professional Development offerings and identify if they are having the impact that we are hoping for. The best coaches know when to get away from something that isn’t working and try something new. They know and understand how to place their employees in the best places to succeed. Isn’t it about time we implement those same practices in education as we continue to promote 21st century skills?
To answer my own question, I believe that there is no dollar amount that can be placed on great organizational leadership. The true impact of a great leader will be felt for future generations in a school district, as many of those children will come back year after year to see these amazing people that truly had a massive impact on their lives. Maybe we all have a Doug Peterson within our organization….. Better yet, maybe we have his skillset sitting within ourselves.