The second day of Harvard involved a field trip (excursion) of the 200 participants from all around the world to Project Adventure, Beverly. In groups, we were put through a series of activities, including a high rope course that involved climbing up a ladder and tree and walking across a log about 30 feet in the air while being belayed by other members of my group.
The challenge of climbing is not foreign to me as I spend a lot of time with the NSW State Emergency Service on roofs after storm damage and past experiences in rock climbing. While all new challenges post new adventures, the greatest learnings for me came on the ground through helping others achieve their goals.
On the day, one activity stood out more than others. It involved our group of 10 participants dividing into two teams of 5 participants and standing in a circle each and a third circle with 30 numbered discs. The aim of the task was for one person at a time to come out of their circle and as a group to touch all 30 discs in consecutive numerical order in the fastest time. After we formed the two groups, one person in my group asked whether we could all do it together. In other words, while the task looked like it was set up to be a competition, there were no rules to stipulate that the task couldn’t be a collaborative exercise with all 10 participants.
After a first attempt at the tasks where both groups alternate in touching the odd and even numbers, we collectively strategised to look for a better solution. We discussed at one point of the two fastest runners completing the tasks while others just on looked. Here lies another leadership dilemma: do we as leaders value efficiency over inclusivity with our staff? How often is it easy to ask the same staff members to undertake certain tasks in our school because we have full confidence that it will be done well and or quickly at the expense of developing other staff members skills. In other words, do we practice distributive leadership in our organisation and share tasks in order to build up each other skill set?
In a school where so much complexity occurs and time management is critical in achieving tasks, it is important to remember what we value in our schools. I’m not saying that inclusivity is more important than efficiency as it’s dependent on the issue at hand. A burst leaking pipe that is spraying water across a playground or a seriously injured child may need a quick response rather than saying to a staff member, here is a new task that I want you to solve. However, we can still be inclusive through the debrief situation and sharing the processes that a leader undertook to solve the task so that if a similar incident occurred, then more people are knowledgeable in the process.
A second learning that came from project Adventure that resonated with me is the importance of helping others to achieve their goals. During the day, we all saw the person that may have scaled new heights by climbing ladders and trees and walking across logs and wires but it was actually the people on the ground that supported the people in the air that really matter. Safety for the person in the air was dependent on the teamwork on the ground. Quite often we only notice highly visible leadership (in this case the climber) and fail to recognise those that a performing the hidden leadership skills (those on the round belaying climbers). In a school context, we have many leaders that are often unrecognised because we fail to take the time to acknowledge their commitment to the goals of the school.
Therefore, a second learning from Day 2 is that we need to make time each day to acknowledge the contribution of staff in their leadership of students on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean a grand announcement but maybe positive reassurance or taking time to actively listen to staff achievements.