Dr. Jacqueline Landrum Sanderlin
WE Day Conference speaker, New York Wednesday, September 20
You often speak about adopting a “why not” mindset. Can you explain what that means?
The “why not” mindset is a mindset of possibilities for almost anything, for community partnerships, for the ability to do more than what we are expected to do. As a principal, I was tired of just getting things that we needed. I wanted to have things that our scholars – I refer to our students as scholars – wanted, and also that they deserved. In other words, why should not we deserve the best? That type of thinking changed our attitude of what we deserved. My perspective is for us not to just think big, but to think even bigger.
My partner Heather read this quote to me yesterday and it has stuck. I am always trying to figure out what really good leadership is all about and why it is such a rare commodity. Rare at least in my definition.
I think it has something to do with courageously adopting a ‘why not’ mindset. I have seen these type of leaders in the past, people like Carol Hunter a now-retired principal in the Ottawa Public Board and Lorne Howcroft, my first principal in the Dufferin-Peel Board. Both of these individuals were striking in the sense that they had a real vision of what was possible and neither felt confined by the narrow strictures of the district bureaucracy.
This type of leader is an inspiration. They have real courage and do not define themselves by the current mandarin mantra.
The important line in the quote is ‘why should not we deserve the best’. Getting the best for your students will mean working outside the confines that your school board wants to put around you. How many leaders are comfortable with doing that?
Most school leaders believe in alignment – the idea that the main ideas that govern the school are seamless with what the school board and by extension what the ministry believes in.
No really strong leader was ever praised for doing alignment really well. To do the best for your staff and students, especially in hard to serve areas you need to be an unconventional thinker and look outside your district for partners that share your vision. School board administrators want you to support their vision – I don’t think you can do both. To really serve your community you have to find a new way.
Most school leaders will not accept these ideas and I have had discussions with administrators who certainly not hold these views and who actually judge my thinking on non-alignment to be disloyal.
My question is, who are we supposed to be loyal to? Why were we hired to lead if not to think on our own and advocate always for our students? If we have the courage to do this we must accept the enmity of those who believe our actions must always align with those of our district.
The school leaders I have the most respect for all had difficult relationships with their district supervisors. To me, that is a sign they were on the right path. I am sure it has been the same for Dr Sanderlin.
We don’t need to be proponents for the district mantra. We need to say ‘why not’ and act for our communities. If we don’t, who will?