This is the second in a two part series on RSU2 in Maine. The first post is A Quick Update from RSU2 Maine.
We all know that the magic ingredient to successfully bringing about any systemic reform is leadership. We know it, we talk about it, but what exact leadership style and strategies are needed?
I’ve listened to superintendents, district teams, principals, and teacher-leaders talk about the importance of leadership in converting schools to competency education. There seems to be something special about the type of leadership that is needed, but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until I spoke with Virgel Hammonds, superintendent of RSU2 in Maine.
Hammonds issued a caveat at the beginning of our conversation on leadership, reminding me that he considered himself a new superintendent and that he was still figuring out the role. He then laid out six insights about what is required of district leadership in proficiency-based systems that struck me as coming from the voice of experience.
1. No One Has All the Answers
Hammonds described the trap that captures educators as they ascend the career ladder. As authority increases, education leaders are positioned as the ones who have the answer. The trap is that having the final say can easily come to mean “the one who has the right answer.” Leaders can start to feel that they have to have the right answer, or worse, that they in fact do have the answer.
Hammonds explained that leaders have to move away from this thinking, “As districts and schools convert to proficiency-based learning, they are knocking down load-bearing walls. It’s impossible to have all the answers because any organizational change often has multiple consequences.” He said learning to be a superintendent in a proficiency-based district meant he had to let go of the pride of having all the answers. “No one person is going to do this all by themselves or be able to figure it all out entirely by themselves. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we take a position of trust and respect that can harness the collective intelligence needed to bring about transformative change?’”
2. Make Decisions Around the Best Interest of Students
Hammonds said that he is often asked about the Lindsay story (he was a high school principal in that California district) or the RSU2 story, as if there is a step-by-step process that other districts can follow. “It’s not about one method. Every district and school has its own history and culture. They need to be able to tap into the assets of their communities and schools to develop the vision, guiding principles, and process that is right for them.” (more…)