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March 2017 | Volume 59 | Number 3
The Path to Least Suspensions
André Benito Mountain
Only one thing is as regal as a graceful entrance: a perfectly timed exit. I've always been a student of dynamic speakers who have mastered this art—presenters like Cornel West, Eric Thomas, and Christopher Emdin. During a recent visit to Tacoma Public Schools, Emdin vividly brought to life the contents of his book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, using the spoken word to paint pictures of different classrooms and engaging the audience in a dialogue about reality pedagogy. As the emotions in the room built, Emdin stoked excitement about the potential of a new year and then released us to get to work crafting plans with our teams.
Great leaders possess the ability to be concise in their language, while also weaving in personal narratives so that the audience develops an emotional connection to the topic. Knowing when to "drop the mic" can determine whether the audience leaves inspired or is inspired to leave.
Recently, I was invited to speak in front of a phenomenal team of educators in the Bellevue School District in Washington. I shared my journey into education, my work with equity issues, and the road ahead for resolving the opportunity gap between students of color and white students. When the elementary principals and their teachers delved into some tough conversations about equity, discipline, and culturally responsive teaching, I noticed a few things about how these highly effective teams interacted:
The decision to drop the mic is what creates an environment where educators can listen to understand rather than respond.
I've been fortunate to have worked for a leader who mastered the timing of the mic drop. Stacey Mabray, former senior director of curriculum for the Richmond County School System in Georgia, excelled at leading her team to activate their collective genius, hammer out the details, and then put the plan into action for the benefit of kids. Because of her ability to step away from the table with such grace, we were able to launch innovations that helped to adjust the trajectory of thousands of children, from summer programs to minimize the loss of skills for our most disadvantaged students to groundbreaking professional development initiatives for teachers. She had the courage to hand over the keys to the people tasked with steering the vision.
Once leaders have focused a team on its marching orders, provided guidance for its work, and established a framework for the team to use (e.g., Bloom's Taxonomy), they need to give the team time to work and create clear plans to accomplish. Sometimes a leader's best next step is to get out of the way and let the team work its magic.
Here's how I set the stage for dropping the mic in my role as an assistant principal, whether it's with my school leadership teams, grade-level teams, schoolwide behavior teams, or new teacher cohort:
Stepping out of the way can be difficult because it is often in a leader's DNA to remain in the mix; however, allowing ideas to flourish organically is akin to leaving a well-maintained garden to soak up the sun's rays or a gentle rain. The gardener doesn't have to be present for the benefits to manifest. Likewise, as I move forward in my own growth as a leader, I'm gaining a better understanding of how to nurture an organization's collective genius and be available as a support rather than the driver of each initiative.
Dropping the mic doesn't equate to dropping the ball. It simply shows a level of trust in the team to get it done without micromanagement. Mastering the art of the mic drop means choosing the right moment to get up and get out.
Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Visit www.ascd.org/educationupdate for submission details.
André Benito Mountain is a school administrator with Tacoma Public Schools in Washington and the author of The Brilliance Beneath: The Power of Perspective in Urban Schools.
Copyright © 2017 by ASCD
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