Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Harvard Day 3, Part 2: Strategy

In the afternoon on day three, Dr. Elizabeth City spoke with us about strategy. I have to admit that I wasn’t super excited about this session because it was the afternoon and I was tired, and also (with no offense to Dr. City) talking about strategy didn’t sound like something that would keep me on the edge of my seat. Then it occurred to me that maybe I should think more about strategy, and her talk, along with the activities we completed, reinforced that idea.

The first line of my notes reads "fail forward." We heard this term often during the week, and it's my new favorite. In my school and district we've talked about the importance of failure on the path to learning, and this term articulates it perfectly. I shall now forever use the words "fail forward." You a use them, too, if you like.

We started with a rousing game of Double This, Double That.  Look it up on YouTube (I’m not linking it because I’m going use it – so if you work at my school and are reading this – DO NOT look it up. No cheating!) Then Dr. City referenced a quote from US gymnast Simone Biles: “Remember to have fun. When I’m smiling and having fun, I perform the best.”

Needless to say, I loved this teacher and this session immediately!

She discussed the concept of starting with why, and since I had participated in a book study on Simon Sinek’s work Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, I felt that I had good background knowledge. However, when I studied the book I always kept getting back to the importance of the how and the what. I felt that if you only talk about why, then you miss lots of people who could help you reach your goals. I struggled with this throughout my book study.

My understanding of Sinek’s work was deepened greatly when Dr. City stated that if you just keep answering why questions, you’ll keep getting what questions. I found that I agree with the concept of the why being the most important, but that answering how and what isn’t in direct disagreement with that.

Why does strategy matter? It helps you move toward a vision. She also stated that if the current level of performance is satisfying your goals, then you don’t need a strategy. This allowed me to take a deep breath as I had this preconceived notion that she would suggest having a strategy for everything, which made me overwhelmed before she even began her presentation. In fact, she explicitly stated that strategy is NOT everything an organization does.

Strategy makes us prioritize, especially in the field of education where we seem to have new initiatives starting every five minutes. I’ve been working through our areas of improvement for next year and talking with our school’s leadership team about them. City’s activity of categorizing strategies and then placing initiatives beneath them seems like a very productive exercise for our young school.

She recommended a book that calls my name with its title: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande(man, I love a checklist!), and she’s published several books herself that intrigue me, including MeetingWise and Lessons from the DataWise Project. Overall, she was an energetic speaker who caused me to think of strategy in a different way than I had before. While this didn’t appeal to the the warm and fuzzy part of my job, it was definitely a nuts and bolts, how-to-get-things- done-well learning opportunity that will make me a better school leader. Dr. City was speaking my language, and I would love to learn more from her.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on Starting With Why.

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