January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

An Evening Conversation on Leadership

Posted: Thursday, December 1st, 2011

by Jeff Bradbury and Dean Gilbert

As we all know the baby boomer generation is on the cusp of retiring enormous numbers of people from the American workforce, and this includes teachers.  One important fact that has not been lost on CSTA is that as many people leave the teaching profession, there will be huge voids in leadership positions at all levels as well.  The CSTA Board of Directors has been quite concerned about this and has been asking: “Who will replace this retiring generation on the board of CSTA?”  Who is going to replace leaders in schools, districts, county offices of education, education departments and statewide positions?  Who will step up and be mentors to the incoming younger generation of teachers?

As a result of many hours of discussion, CSTA leaders and some friends of CSTA decided to host “An Evening Conversation on Leadership” as a 5-hour pre-conference event the night before the 2011 Science Education Conference in Pasadena.

Although every person in CSTA leadership from the executive director to the president to past board members firmly agreed that we need to go forward with the conference, there was one glaring problem: We had no budget!  More on that later…that was not going to stop us.

The “Evening Conversation” planning team, consisting of a former CSTA board president, a retired Rockwell/NASA engineer (hey, he helped put men on the Moon, he could probably help us with our problem!), and a former CSTA board member, decided it is of first importance to listen to the younger generation, to hear their concerns, listen to their needs, and understand their values.  This significantly helped the team shape the evening’s proceedings.  Since this had never really been done before, the planning team wondered if there would be any interest.  We decided to have a “pizza night round table discussion” with younger teachers to help us plan.  We sent out an invitation to nine people we had never met before, wondering if they would even read an email from complete strangers, let alone join us for dinner.  Nevertheless six of the nine young teachers showed up with great hunger, and it was not an appetite just for pizza.  They were as concerned and interested in leadership as we, the planning team.  Some of the focus group participants drove over 25 miles in rush hour traffic.  I guess we can conclude that people want to know more about the issue of leadership!

The “Conversation” started with “participants” and “mentors” in table groups working through an activity discussing and coming to consensus on the most important characteristics of a leader. This activity was followed by a talk by Nikki DiRanna, a young leader in education talking about issues she faces everyday as an administrator.  She wisely mixed the theory of leadership with its practice.

We continued our conversation over dinner.  Now, the reader might wonder how we paid for dinner for 55 people when convention center meals can cost $40 a plate.  Well we begged Chipotle and they came through by donating burritos, chips, and guacamole. Dessert was homemade cookies.  It can be done on no budget!

After dinner, we experienced team and leadership building activities (it got a little loud at times), followed by a panel of educational leaders sharing their “Personal Story of Leadership”.

George Howell, a teacher-participant from Cathedral City High School reflects on how “the pre-conference allowed for a great discussion about teaching our current and future students.  I felt like after the conference I walked away a better educator.  My belief is that everything falls back on leadership and this discussion made my belief even more concrete and valid in my mind.”  Marian Murphy Shaw, one of the planners and facilitators for the evening states, “it impressed me to see educators attend an event that was not necessarily a familiar topic, on a Thursday night.  It became apparent that the relationship each guest had with the “mentor” who invited them is what made the difference.  Multiple times the guest teachers commented that they did not see themselves as leaders, but by the end of the evening they were reassuring each other that someone saw it in you, that’s why you are here.”

So many great experiences shared, we are already talking about holding a Conversation next year in San Jose.

After a fulfilling time of discussion, interaction, personal growth, and making new friends, we came away with some conclusions.

1) There is a tremendous hunger for knowledge and skill development regarding leadership.  A few people drove all the way from San Diego at the end of their school day in L.A. traffic to come to the “Conversation” and then hopped in their cars and drove all the way back home. People are willing to make sacrifices to learn and grow.

2) The younger generation is not apathetic about taking the lead. They want to be part of something meaningful and they want to make a contribution. What they need is the confidence, tools and mentoring to get into the game.

3) After the focus group, listening to many discussions at the “Conversation” on values of leadership, listening to energetic Nikki DiRanna, talking over dinner, and the activities of the evening, one truth came through loud and clear: Leadership is all about Relationship.

Leadership is not primarily about issues, tasks, projects, or programs.  Leadership is primarily about people.  As eloquently stated by Nikki DiRanna, “the best leadership advice I ever got was to figure out what my leadership style would be. As a young leader I am learning that leadership is all about building, developing, and nurturing relationships.”

This next generation has ideas and an optimism and energy that is just waiting to be tapped!  Many potential leaders simply need encouragement to set them on their way. Maybe, just maybe, the next decade or two will see a renaissance of leadership and education.

Jeff Bradbury is a professor of chemistry at Cerritos College and Dean Gilbert is science consultant with the Los Angeles County Office of Education and is CSTA’s region 3 director.

 

Written by Dean Gilbert

Dean Gilbert

Dean Gilbert is the science coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education, and a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. Excellent article, especially as it pertains to leadership style. It’s easy to determine your natural leadership style via a psychometric instrument – the one I prefer is based on neuroscience. From there, determine how to lead from ‘outside your strengths’ by developing the skills to overcome your weaknesses.

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