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This past weekend was beautifully sunny in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia and I took advantage of the great weather to partake in one of my favourite outdoor activities with my wife ... a hike up the Sumas Grind. And it's called a "grind" because it is basically a 40 minute climb straight up a mountainside overlooking Mt Baker and the valley below. And while I was huffing and puffing my way to the top, I realized there were a lot of analogies between the hike and educational leadership.
Going Backwards Moves You Forward
You would think the most efficient way to get to the summit of the hike would be to always go up. However as we followed the trail up to the summit, we realized that on more than one occasion, we were heading down the hill to get to another point before heading back up. Leadership in schools in often like that. Progress and change, no matter what the area, seldom happens in an upward trajectory. Often we have "dips" in achievement, buy-in or overall success. We have to remind ourselves that, like the hike up the mountain, these backward movements are an important part to the journey. Sometimes they redirect us to a more efficient path. Or sometimes, they remind us that failure is part of the journey to success. Regardless, it is worth remembering that educational leadership does not always consist of moving forward.
The Path To Success Is Always Unique
My wife, Crystal, and I have done the Sumas Grind several times. And as we were trekking up this past weekend, I found myself realizing that we rarely walk in each other’s footprints. In fact, there are parts of the trail where we can go totally separate ways before winding back to meet each other. Educational leadership is a lot like that. There is no one way to get to success. What works for me at West Langley may not work for other members of the team at our school. And certainly is not a blueprint that I could take into another building and expect the same success. Like the climb up the mountainside, uniqueness is part of what makes success possible. And in hiking that is inherently accepted and understood. No one heads on to a trail thinking we will walk in exactly the same spots. We just know we are all headed in the same direction.
The Goal Is Clear
There is no question for Crystal and I what the goal is when we park at the foot of the Sumas Grind. In fact, we rarely even have to verbalize it. We both know we are getting to the summit to enjoy the view. And it is this common goal that continues to motivate us up the mountain, even when we are tired and sore. In educational leadership, sometimes the goal is not as clear, but just as important. All educators will get tired and “sore” at some point. What makes it more difficult to work through is not even knowing what the expected end result is. As educational leaders, it is important that this is known by everyone involved. And while it is sometimes just inherently understood, it often needs to be reiterated so that everyone knows what the definition of success is. Schools are places where many summits need to be reached … literacy, numeracy, citizenship, social responsibility … to name a few.
Take Time To Rest
If you know my wife and I, you would know that we are both extremely competitive, especially when it comes to each other. And while it is friendly competition that usually drives us to both be better, hiking up the Sumas Grind is a nice reminder of the importance of taking time to rest. In fact, we usually find that stopping for even a minute to grab a water and catch our breath results in a much better time in getting to the top. I know for me, I sometimes forget to take a rest when it comes to being an educational leader. I get caught up in all “mountain tops” I want to reach in my professional world (school, district and beyond) that I can forget to just take a break and catch my breath. And I know in the long run, taking those short breaks will make me a much more effective educational leader in all my settings. In fact, like hiking, those times of rest are when some of the best reflection occurs. A great opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate the plan you are carrying out. Peter Drucker sums it up well ... “From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
The Summit Is Never The Summit
We have transcended the Sumas Grind several times, but this one actually hit me this past weekend. We were enjoying the view at the lookout when I noticed a small opening in the trees. We realized that we didn’t actually know where it went but did notice that there was plenty of mountain left to climb. We wondered if maybe another lookout existed higher up. And while we didn’t explore the new trail on that occasion, it made me realize that this too was analogous with educational leadership. The summit is never the summit in what we do. It is important that we take stock in the successes we have, but we need to remember that there is always another path that can lead to great success for students. Our work at West Langley with integrating technology to empower learning has been a great example of that. As we grow and develop as a learning community, we keep being reminded that there is another goal past the one we have just accomplished. And while I recognize that in the world of hiking and mountain climbing there are theoretically the highest summits in the world, educational leadership truly knows no bounds.
Simplistic, But True
Even in writing this post, I find irony in how much I was reflecting on educational leadership while on a recreational outing with my family. It goes to show how much our roles in schools truly permeates who we are as people. And while I can appreciate that drawing the analogy between a hike up the Sumas Grind and our complex roles as educational leaders can be overly simplistic, there is certainly lots we can think about in being the best for students we can be.