Monday, January 21, 2013

Preschool Pedagogy: What Toddlers Can Teach Us About Leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of real-life lessons for educational leaders, unfortunately many times separate from what we receive in methodology courses or workshops.  As I was dropping my daughter off at preschool last week, I started reflecting on how just much of what is experienced during a normal day of life for toddlers is extraordinarily relevant for the work we do as adults.  With that in mind, here are four lessons that we should readily learn from our youngest leaders:

  • Share.  Regularly and Often. Just because we’re in leadership positions, doesn’t mean we’re actually leaders.  We might be seen as enforces, pushovers, or simply figureheads.  To truly lead, we need to build collaborative ownership, where all stakeholders feel that their voices can help chart a course  This ownership can only come from sharing; whether it be of decision-making, responsibilities, or ideas.  Toddlers learn early on that a directive approach will only go so far, and that there are only so many times that they can say, “No, it’s my ball!” before nobody wants to play with them.  The same goes for leaders.  It can’t always be our ball, all the time.  By building an invested community we can keep the ball up longer than if we were simply tossing it around ourselves.

  • Stay in Your Seat during Lunchtime.  Rules and expectations play an important role in society, and sometimes different scenarios call for different responses.  Toddlers learn that they should sit during lunchtime and interact with their peers in appropriate ways (saying “please” and “thank you,” not making a mess, etc.).  The big idea here is that our behavior must fit the role and situation we find ourselves in.  So, when in a leadership role, we must always act as a leader.  This goes above and beyond the walls of our school or boundaries of our district.  Why?  Simply because we never know who will be listening and learning.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t keep our personalities intact.  In fact, if we’ve learned anything, it is that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice who we are to be who we want to be.  Toddlers understand that their behavior during lunch doesn’t mean they can’t be the silly 3 year old they want to be later.  It isn’t a conflict of interest to be a leader while still being you.

  • Be Curious.  Toddlers are naturally curious, and that desire to learn more is cultivated in daycare and nursery school.  Ample opportunities to explore, exposure to new materials, books, toys, etc. all help to build a love for learning.  In fact, while I don’t have the data to back this up, I would be willing to confidently state that almost all students leave preschool with a love of learning.  Yet, as we have all seen, that changes for some as they get older. While there are many reasons for this, sometimes it is due solely to the environment of the school or district they attend.  As leaders, we must make sure that curiosity is a trait that is cherished in our buildings.  We must make the desire to learn more a pillar of our vision and show we are positive risk-takers.  When we hire, curiosity should be at the top of our “needed traits” list.  Evaluations for our staff should factor in curiosity and a desire to encourage students to seek just as many questions as answers.  What our society-at-large needs most is a constant influx of people who don’t just want to be receivers of information.  We can help cultivate the next generation of doers by emphasizing learning as a life-long experience.

  • Nap.  Or at Least Rest.  Preschools know that their charges need time to rest.  So, naps, or rest periods for older children, are not only encouraged, but required.  Even those who don’t want to nap are taught that they must at least lay down on their cots.  Why?  So their minds can reflect on recent activities, and their bodies can recharge for new explorations.  As we age, that rest time seems to disappear.  Even some five and six year olds are so hyper-scheduled that they don’t even have time to think.  We know this is wrong both scientifically and philosophically.  The greatest ideas often come when people have the chance to ponder.  We must make sure that we embrace reflective time as important to our work with students and teachers.  While mandates may make it hard to incorporate this thinking time, there is no reason why twenty to thirty minutes a day can’t be devoted to refreshing the mind.  Whether this means silently contemplating, doodling, writing a reflection, or taking a walk outside, nothing works to recharge the batteries like a change of pace.  Regardless of what this looks like, as leaders, we must make sure that we find time for peace as well.  Spending quality time with family, pursuing hobbies, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising and eating right all can help us feel better both in mind and in body.

We can’t learn everything from nursery school, but we can learn quite a bit.  We must remember that for most of our students, they are closer in age to these toddlers than in many times, to ourselves.  It stands to reason that what prepares our students for the microcosm of schooling can just as easily prepare them for the great big world out there.

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