Nurturing hearts, mobilizing energies

Among the rewards of our work at Performance Fact is witnessing the moments when the light bulb turns on for our clients. Meetings take on a different tone. Curiosity starts displacing defensiveness. People are more likely to ask questions than jump to conclusions. Second-guessing the mission and the intent of colleagues fades in favor of collaboration and alignment around common goals.

How does this shift come about?

Clients typically tell us that embracing a different perspective about building trust and authentic relationships has been one of the most transformative outcomes of our work together.

At Performance Fact, we suggest that trust, especially self-trust, creates the foundation for the healthy relationships on which school and student success depends. Trust must gain a solid footing before participants can begin embracing higher levels of responsibility, accountability and empowerment.

The leader’s self-trust and the degree to which he or she is trusted by the team and stakeholders are key to unleashing the knowledge, commitment and creativity needed for continuously improving student learning, teaching practices, leadership practices and organizational practices. After all, it is difficult to make a convincing case if the leader himself or herself lacks conviction in self, in the goal and in the team.

Time and again, we’ve seen the subtle but powerful transformations that occur when participants fully engage and choose to trust. Once one’s mindset shifts, changes ripple throughout their lives, both personally and professionally.

Teaching-and-learning as spiritual practice

Let’s face it: Teaching children is very challenging work! And leading a school or school system is an equally daunting task! I have the utmost respect and admiration for practitioners who have chosen to devote themselves to the profession. One might say they are responding to a spiritual calling – a journey of and to the heart.

To remain inspired rather than dis-spirited – to draw from a deep, continuously renewed well of energy rather than suffer depletion – the practitioner must ground his or her life in some form of spiritual practice. (In the Spotlight section of this month’s newsletter, Dr. Joe Schroeder, associate executive director of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA), shares his perspectives on how educators might keep renewing their reserves of spiritual energy.)

The wonder of catalysis

In chemistry, a catalyst is an accelerator, a chemical that incites activity but rarely is depleted itself. A catalyst gives without losing, thereby enabling others to continue giving.

In my own practice in public education, I am “spiritually catalyzed” every day by certain principles about teaching-and-learning. Here are a few of my favorites, most of which were inspired by “A Course in Miracles,” published by the Foundation for Inner Peace:

  1. “Trust is an essential part of teaching. In fact, it is the part that makes learning possible.”
  2. “The first job of a teacher is to increase motivation in the learner … and that is also his/her last job.”
  3. “A teacher must believe in the ideas s/he teaches and in the learner to whom s/he offers the ideas.”
  4. “To teach is to learn, so that teacher and learner are the same.”
  5. “What you teach is teaching you.”
  6. “What I know is not all there is to learn.”
  7. “When you are ready to learn, the opportunity to teach will be presented.”
  8. “No one can give what s/he has not received. To give a thing requires first that you have it in your own possession. … To give is how you recognize you have received.”
  9. “You cannot be totally committed sometime.”
  10. “Nothing you undertake with certain purpose and happy confidence, holding your brother’s hand and keeping step with Heaven’s Song, is difficult to do.”

What ideas or feelings do these principles trigger for you? More important, how do you renew your own spirit continuously, so that you are able to continue giving to others, especially the students entrusted to you? What fountainhead do you draw from to guide and rejuvenate you in every circumstance?

As always, we welcome your input!

— Mutiu O. Fagbayi

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Tapping spiritual resources to thrive as an educational leader

Dr. Joe Schroeder is clear: Developing sustainable, effective leadership involves nurturing not only one’s mind and body, but one’s spirit as well.

In public education, Schroeder says, “we have a bias toward intellectual leadership. … Yet the art of leadership is really about connecting with people’s hearts and spirits” to transcend individual limitations and enhance capabilities.

Former superintendent of the 4,800-student Muskego-Norway School District near Milwaukee, Schroeder is now associate executive director of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, which offers training and development for educational leaders.

He’s also the author of a blog — “Labor of Love” — that explores the “insights and resources I’ve tapped for trying to be a sustainable leader” and aims to support and strengthen other school administrators.

Swimming in a sea of high pressure, drawing from a deeper well

Becoming an effective, sustainable leader is tough work, Schroeder says — and getting harder all the time.

Global competitiveness requires that schools prepare students with the high-level skills necessary to succeed in a challenging world, regardless of whether the student will attend college, join the armed forces, or directly pursue a job or trade.

Meanwhile, many schools are facing resource cutbacks and a decline in public support.

“With multiple stakeholders making multiple demands for your singular time,” he says, “being successful in that climate continues to get more difficult.”

Well-publicized debates over Common Core requirements, suggesting conflicting understanding of and expectations regarding higher levels of rigor, Schroeder says, have only turned up the heat on administrators.

Providing more support for the hearts and spirits of educational leaders, Schroeder believes, may renew their energy and commitment. Unfortunately, discomfort with spiritual topics or the fear of creating or succumbing to pressure around specific belief systems have silenced the conversation and left many to manage the stresses alone, he says.

With “Labor of Love,” Schroeder invites educators to consider spiritual approaches to universal challenges: turning off the day’s concerns in order to sleep well, making calm and confident decisions amid unhappiness and controversy, guiding and motivating staff members with diverse needs and talents, and accepting one’s limited capacity to respond to every request of every stakeholder.

While some administrators develop “mental tricks” to deal with such challenges, Schroeder goes deeper. The blog, he says, reminds people that they “aren’t alone, there are common challenges of being a leader, and (tapping) resources going back a couple thousand years (can be rewarding).”

In our culture’s haste to sidestep the tricky language of personal faith, he adds, “we are negligent (in not providing) some exposure to some of those resources that could help educators maintain a healthy outlook and a sustaining sense of leadership.”

“If you’re going to be an effective leader,” Schroeder contends, “you need to tap somehow into that spiritual side of yourself. Otherwise you’re really missing out on what really can make a sustainable leader.”

Performance Fact’s impact

Schroeder was the new superintendent at Muskego-Norway in 2008 when he hired Performance Fact, Inc. He had met Mutiu Fagbayi when both were working as educational consultants. They discovered commonality in their perspectives around educational leadership, including the notion that “the leader can’t give anything to others that he or she doesn’t first possess” internally, Schroeder says.

At Muskego-Norway, “we had developed what we thought was a really strong strategic plan,” Schroeder says. Because most plans fail in the implementation stage, he says, he knew an exceptional approach would be necessary to beat the odds.

“I wanted someone with a good sense of tools and resources and experiences,” Schroeder says, “I wanted all my school and district leaders and my department staff to start thinking the way Mutiu thinks” — that looking carefully at and shifting one’s thoughts and beliefs can transform professional practices and generate outstanding student outcomes.

Indeed, as Muskego-Norway leaders and staff embraced Performance Fact’s Eye on the Goal™ school improvement system, particularly the CPR (Continuous Progress Report) Card, the district methodically worked toward the effectiveness that Schroeder was seeking.

So successful was the implementation that Muskego-Norway in 2010 was named to the mastery level of the Wisconsin Forward Award, a program of organizational quality based on the national Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. To date, Schroeder says, only three Wisconsin K-12 districts have attained that level of recognition.

The district’s performance has continued to build — even as both Schroeder, named Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year in 2011, and Performance Fact have transitioned out. Under Superintendent Kelly Thompson, who was assistant superintendent under Schroeder, “the foundation has remained and improvement has continued,” he says.


Whether or not such exceptional achievements are within reach, every leader of a school or district has the opportunity to build his or her own effectiveness and sustainability. Schroeder encourages every educator to spend time reflecting on what her or she believes, and then drawing on those resources to nurture the heart and spirit. He also emphasizes the importance of respecting plurality and encouraging conversation, when possible, among those of different faiths and perspectives.

“Knowing that we have differences shouldn’t dissuade us from talking about whatever we tap (to connect) our heart and soul to the heart and soul of others” – and to the shared commitment to continuously improving the educator’s craft.

How about you? Does tapping the well of spiritual resources help you rise above day-to-day struggles? Where do you go for spiritual refreshment?

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