Pulling Some Golden Thread

By David Robertson, IPLI Mentor & Member of IPLI Leadership Team and Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education at Warsaw Community Schools.

Throughout my educational career, I have been blessed with great teachers and class content that I truly enjoy.  Some of the classes I specifically enjoyed were literature classes, and of the content I enjoyed in those classes, short stories were often a favorite.  Whether a chiller from Poe, or historical suspense from the likes of Ambrose Bierce, I love short stories! Short stories are the Law and Order episodes of literature.  You get your closure within a few minutes.  Additionally, many short stories come with a cautionary tale or life lesson.  I love short stories!

One short story I remember reading was called The Magic Thread.  I don’t remember all of the details of the story, but I think I remember the gist.  Basically, there’s a boy named Peter who always wanted to get to the next thing in life.  One day he meets an old woman who gives him a silver ball with a golden thread hanging from it.  Whenever Peter pulls some of the golden thread, he “skips” forward in his life, passing over the parts he doesn’t want to wait through.  Peter is so impatient that as he skips more and more of his life he doesn’t want to put up with, he soon realizes his whole life is gone and he’s missed everything!  The moral of the story is to live in the moment and learn to appreciate the daily struggles of life.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never wanted to pull some golden thread more than I do right now!

I remember when I first read The Magic Thread that I felt I didn’t struggle with wanting to rush life along.  I felt like I did a good job of appreciating the moments of life.

These last three weeks have been unprecedented in so many ways.  Whether it’s working at home, masking-up to buy groceries, or just the daily prayers for health and safety, the waters we’re navigating now are most certainly uncharted.  The world of education has changed overnight.  What used to work doesn’t always work anymore.

So, what is a school leader to do? (And by school leader, I mean principals, other administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals…we ALL lead at school)

Leaders Look for Opportunities

Rather than wallowing in the emotions of a crisis, leaders look for opportunities.  Every situation presents an opportunity for positive growth.  Great leaders either understand that before entering a crisis, or they are able to quickly get through initial shock and emotions and find the opportunity for growth.

Growing Forward

It’s important to understand that great leaders find opportunities that transform the organizations they lead.  They don’t simply find ways to maintain, they grow forward.  Good leaders put out the fires of crisis and take care of the essentials.  Great leaders look for an opportunity that allows them to move things forward in a transformative way.  They understand that often the crisis actually the opening they need to make some changes.

Personal and Professional

Great leaders look for opportunity in crisis at a professional level AND on a personal level.  They never forget that great leaders take care of themselves as well as those they lead.  During the current crisis, I’ve seen great leaders who have used the shutdown to work out every day, or start getting the rest they need, or eat better.  They use the opportunity to make themselves better.

Operationalize the Change

So great leaders look for the opportunity in crisis, they leverage the opportunity for growth, they do it on a personal and professional level, and the operationalize the changes.  Great leaders understand that after crisis, things “return to normal.”  However, great leaders are committed to a “new normal.”  They find ways to implement the opportunities they’ve pursued at an operational level.  So, what was strategic during crisis, becomes operational after the crisis.

For example, right now, many staff at our schools are doing “care calls” every week to our students.  This crisis has created great opportunities for leaders to connect with students in a unique way.  What if those care calls were to become operationalized once we get back to “normal” school?

Fill the Void

Finally, great leaders understand that if they don’t take the opportunities presented in crisis, something will fill the void.  Great leaders have to step up and lead.  Followers look to leaders for courageous, brave leadership in the midst of a crisis and if they don’t see that, negativity, rumors, and fear will rule.

In closing, I understand that the health and wellness of all are paramount right now.  That’s the first priority.  Great leaders do what they can to ensure everyone is safe, and at the same time look for the opportunities that will truly transform their organizations.  While it would be easier to “pull some golden thread,” great leaders know that skipping the hard times would mean missed opportunities for growth!