All posts by Alan Blankstein

AASA on Courageous and Uplifting Leadership – Part Four

The greatest challenges to success for every student in America are the policies that promote one child over another and punish educators for being ill-equipped to address the multiple and increasingly serious issues students bring with them to school.

Even in the toughest circumstances, someone in each district is succeeding with the same students that others are failing. Cyndee Blount, chief academic officer in the Petersburg schools, uses several strategies to build a process that enhances trust, communication and cohesion around instruction.

Principal partners. Recently retired principals from a high-performing neighboring district were recruited as partners and mentors for each Petersburg principal. The retirees — selected based on a history of success in schools with similar populations, demographics and/or instructional needs — work to build the instructional capacity of leaders and teachers. They support the principal with everything, including developing the school improvement plan, providing professional development and joining the principal in teacher observations, debriefing, reflection and collaborative decision making.

Instructional leadership. A shift in the perception of the building principal from manager to instructional leader was necessary to convey the urgency of improving daily instruction. In Petersburg, Blount and instructional teams built professional development toolkits that included presentations, talking points, engaging activities and instructional look-fors to use in walkthroughs. Principals, along with building-level instructional leaders, received the training first, then delivered the presentations to teachers and over subsequent weeks provided increasingly intensive feedback using a common protocol during walkthroughs.

Central office as support for schools. Staff in the district office collaborate on and monitor each school improvement plan. Blount and a central-office team meet monthly with site leaders to expedite physical and human resources. Real-time support boosts trust, morale and results.

Courageous leaders promote a culture that addresses the diversity of needs their students bring with them to school. They use student voice to inform their plans and the students themselves to help implement and evaluate them. Students also can galvanize the community and influence key policymakers. To alleviate distractions, courageous leaders often act as buffers against external politics so their staff can concentrate on teaching and learning.

AASA on Courageous and Uplifting Leadership – Part Five

No. 5: Build sustainable relations.
The lifeblood of any organization is trusting relationships. Without trust among the adults in a school, there is almost no chance that students will excel in their academics. Building relationships with school boards, community members and parents makes it possible for district leaders to advance their core mission. Likewise, working authentically from their core and aligning with the other leadership principles, these leaders enhance trusting and sustainable relations.

When driven by mission rather than ego, leaders can listen more intently to the ideas and concerns of others. Newsome began his successful tenures at Newport News, Va., Chesterfield County, Va., and now Petersburg by asking questions and listening to all stakeholders, including adults who had no children in the schools. Responses to questions like “What do you believe is needed to ensure a quality education?” fueled the first student-led convocation in which the theme was “I Believe.” It brought together the best thinking of the community, as well as the state education department and the governor’s office, as they worked collaboratively to make Petersburg a model for other urban districts.

When leaders welcome various voices and state their values, yet allow others to shape a collective vision and appreciate individual roles in the success of every child, they build sustainable relationships toward a greater good.

November 15, 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are reaching out to share with you a possible way to work together toward the success of every student. Our newly released book, Excellence through Equity: 5 Principles of Courageous Leadership that Guide Achievement for Every Student demonstrates how entire nations, provinces, states, and award-winning schools, and districts have moved beyond zero sum thinking, and used equity as a driver for greater success for each student – even those already performing at high levels. In the foreword, Archbishop Tutu referred to this work as the launch of a “movement,” and indeed this is what we are inviting you to help advance and partner in.

Below is a listing of upcoming national and regional keynotes and summits hosted by people who, like you, are dedicated to the success of every child. Please let us know if you’d like to host an event, or otherwise join the movement! To host your own keynote or summit, contact us via the email and website below.


Pedro Noguera & Alan Blankstein

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Lessons from Opt Out: The Anti-test Movement

Lessons from Opt Out: The Anti-test Movement

While the number of families saying “no” to high stakes tests for their children are growing nationwide, New York State stands at the vanguard of this movement. Last month, the number of children opting out of tests rose by more than 300% since last year in New York. Last month, 165,000 students — or one of six eligible students– opted not to take standardized tests, representing a substantial increase over the 49,000 students opting out in 2014.

In New Jersey, 14.5% of 11th graders sat out the new tests. Weeks ago, Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado signed a law eliminating certain tests and requiring districts to allow parents to keep their children out of state tests. Given all that is at stake, it is helpful to have an analysis of the driving forces behind this movement, and some attending lessons outlined below:

How is even more important that what when it comes to implementation. Generally speaking, people will (and do) follow bad ideas that are presented in an engaging manner quicker than they will a good idea that comes to them via command, or fiat. I have asked thousands of educators during presentations in the past 2 years “Who is against the content of Common Core?” No one has yet raised their hand. I then ask “who is opposed to the way it is being implemented?” Virtually everyone raises a hand.

When I sat with 6 organizational leaders and two top DOE representatives at the NEA Headquarters for the Transformational Dialogues focused on Common Core in 2010, it became clear that there was not yet an implementation plan in place. The one used in NY State resulted in the resignation of Commissioner John King last year, and has led to a backlash in districts throughout the state.

Good people with good intentions often conceive of great advances for their constituents. Yet the implementation of these concepts is at least as important as the ideas themselves.

Failure isn’t an option for some parents. While poor children and their parents have been labeled failures for far too long, this is a unacceptable for middle class families at the heart of the current opt out movement in New York. Statewide only 31% of students were proficient in last year’s English test. While testing companies gaining billions of Common Core dollars, and politicians who are closely aligned with this industry make glib announcements about “adjustment periods,” parents don’t see failure for their children as insignificant collateral damage. They see their children suffering.

This opens up an opportunity to reevaluate failure as a viable option for any child. If a child’s life chance for happiness and economic independence is tied to success on a test, isn’t it our job as the adults in that child’s life to assure that he or she succeeds? As my coauthor Pedro Noguera and I point out in our recently released book, Excellence through Equity: Five Principles of Courageous Leadership to Guide Achievement for Every Student, the zero sum game is a tired and broken paradigm. All students perform better when schools focus on equity, even students who are already high-performing.

Relationships rule. While I respect many of Governor Cuomo’s qualities, and those of our new State Commissioner, and have great affinity for John King and his extraordinary intellect, my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher and her productive work with my child is more important. When parents start to see the tremendous burden and stress being placed on their local teachers and principals who also happen to be their neighbors and friends, who will these parents support? Will parents’ respect for the Governor trump the relationships with their children’s teachers? Not likely according to common sense, and every PDK/Gallup poll for the last half century.


The only political lever left to assure that parents opt back into tests for their children is the financial lever. That is a heavy handed approach that will gain compliance at best, but never commitment. What is needed is a strategy that truly engages all stakeholders in ways consistent with what motivates real people (see Daniel Pink’s book, Drive; or my own book, The Answer is in the Room). Using a hammer to fix a crack in the wall leads to a large hole in the wall. Instead, perhaps it’s time to deal with the real and legitimate concerns of the human beings affected by a policy-driven agenda that has left them out of the planning.

Baltimore on the Brink

A Tale of Too Many Cities

In the past two weeks I’ve traveled throughout the east coast, and had scores of conversations with black, white, and brown people – including those eager to share and those who seem to feel that by ignoring or minimizing this “last incident,” it may somehow disappear or at least not reach their own geographical or psychological domicile. Yet far from disappearing, Baltimore is yet another milestone in a road dotted with flashing lights warning of the deeper realities we must collectively face… or be faced with.

In many ways Baltimore is similar to Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, South Carolina and so many of our cities recently in the news. In each case we have seen the familiar pattern of police brutality against minorities, the poor, the homeless and/or mentally ill members of our citizenry. In each case the scenes are captured and the stories told by otherwise helpless passersby armed only with their cell phones.

What is happening in Baltimore is also significantly different. It’s true that the collective outrage and consciousness among those who have been targets of harassment by law enforcement for at least a century has grown to a boiling point. In this way, Freddie Gray begins to mirror Mohamed Bouazizi, the street vendor in Tunisia, who, after being roughed up by police while he was trying to sell fruit, set himself on fire, igniting uprisings throughout the Middle East known as the “Arab Spring.” In the case of Baltimore, it was those who survived Freddie Gray who set parts of the city ablaze. This did not lead to fires encompassing the east coast or cities throughout the nation, because the heat was turned down by unusual, swift and decisive actions of State Attorney, Marilyn Mosby. Yet the embers of human anger and frustration in Baltimore are smoldering, not extinguished; and the dynamics and lessons from this city should be widely understood and quickly acted upon by leaders throughout the country.

Living on the Edge of Hope

This past year we have seen numerous incidents of innocent victims dying at the hands of those hired to protect them. Yet the reaction on the streets of Baltimore was very different than what we witnessed in, say, New York after a grand jury cleared the officers involved in killing unarmed Eric Garner by strangulation. The statistics between the two cities tell much of the story.

Among racial and ethnic groups in New York, Hispanics recorded the highest poverty rate (26 percent), followed by Asians (25 percent), blacks (21.7 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (15.2 percent). Noncitizens had a higher rate (27.8 percent) than native-born (19.9 percent) and naturalized citizens (17.8 percent). Not only is there less diversity among the poor in Baltimore than in New York, but the overall poverty rate in Sandtown, the neighborhood in which Freddie Gray lived, is roughly double that of either Baltimore or New York. Moreover Sandtown and neighboring Harlem Park, experience about double the shootings, unemployment, and homicides than Baltimore City at large. These neighborhoods also have more residents in jails and prisons than any other neighborhood in the state of MD, with an annual cost of $17 million for incarceration alone, according to the New York Times. In short, as one young man in Baltimore shared, “It doesn’t matter what we do, there’s no hope for us here.”

Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, that of the nine fighting grounds in which one might do battle, the most dangerous one was that in which the vanquished had no hope for escape, for their desperation would lead to unpredictable and incalculably deadly actions. Many of the residents of Baltimore in general, and Sandtown and Harlem Park in particular, feel hopeless and helpless in their situation. Pour a heavy and constant dose of injustice into the mix and the results are explosive.

One Man’s Gangster is Another Woman’s Youngster

It is difficult to find any black man in Baltimore who hasn’t been mistreated by local police. The abuse of Baltimore residents derives in part from the fear, anger and contempt by those outside of the neighborhoods who come to police the people within them. With less than 9% of the policing staff residing locally, many bring with them preconceived ideas about those they are hired to protect: They are often seen as the enemy, or at least unworthy of dignified treatment.

The unarmed and petite Baltimore mom, Toya Graham, demonstrated, by contrast, the extent to which a truly caring adult can intervene, even physically as she did with her own son, in a successful attempt to keep him out of trouble. While many question her approach of pushing and hitting her 16-year-old to keep him from participating in rioting, the point is that she was willing to do what it took to protect her child, and that even her use of force was understood to be out of concern for her son’s well-being. Had she not intervened, this easily swayed teenager would likely have been characterized by those who don’t know him as a hardened “thug” worthy of tasing and worse. Although the “Mother of the Year” title bestowed upon Toya by the New York Post might well be replaced with “Violent Father” had she been the boy’s dad, the larger point is that relationships rule.

Whether we look at research on managers who gain greater results with employees using concern for them vs. authority over them as motivator; how leaders in the army leverage loyalty more successfully than coercion in getting results; the outcomes lead us in the same direction. Decades of successful community policing, likewise, bear this point out for authorities as well: relationships are the key to getting desired outcomes with the least possible use of force and risk to all involved.

The Truck Stops Here

Morally-rooted, courageous and decisive action among leaders seems to be increasingly rare, as politicians in particular balance myriad interests and a constant focus on increasing their funding streams. Longing for the days of Harry Truman’s “The Buck Stops Here” motto in action, thousands turned their planned protests to joyous celebration upon hearing the unequivocal statement of criminal charges against 6 police officers by Maryland State Attorney, Marilyn Mosby only a day after receiving the results of an internal police investigation and the official autopsy report. Mosby minced no words in proclaiming that five stops of the vehicle in question left ample time and opportunity to tend to the needs of the man these officers had shackled and taken for “a ride.” As one young Baltimore man shared, “Just the fact that we have finally been heard and acknowledged was huge for me!”

While a mainly sympathetic white onlooker stated “The charges seem to be delivered very quickly,” and Gene Ryan, President of the Fraternal Order of Police, called it an “egregious rush to judgment,” the charges sent a clear message that regardless of race (three of the six officers charged are black including Ceasar Goodson, who faces the most serious charge of second degree murder), it’s a new day in Baltimore: justice will be served. One might also ask how long it would take to charge Freddie Gray, you, me, or any other potential suspect for a crime committed. For that matter what crime had Freddie Gray actually committed?

Ms. Mosby’s promise to the family that “no one is above the law,” and that “(She) would pursue justice on their behalf,” is heartening. Yet Mosby’s battle ahead is taking place within the “legal system” which is unfortunately not the same as the “justice system,” and the odds are stacked against her winning. Luckily Ms. Mosby has taken on such odds before and won, beating out her opponent, incumbent Gregg Bernstein, for this position only months ago, although he outspent her 3 to 1.

Horizons of Hope, or Despair and Destruction?

One might think that the lessons above would drive local and state leaders, the Fraternal Order of Police and vanquished political opponents to some common understandings that also governed a way forward for our new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch; President Obama, and business and civic leaders throughout the nation. Transparency and justice regardless of race, creed, color or economics is bad for dictators, but it’s good business for democracies; real and accessible economic and educational opportunities foster hope and collective well-being while their absence breeds despair and destruction; relationships trump force every day of the week and in almost any context; courageous leadership fosters confidence and positive action, and in tandem with the rest of these lessons, can turn riotous outbreaks into joyous celebrations in anticipation of a brighter future.

Yet things may have to get worse before they get better. If the Baltimore police officers are not convicted, it is likely the combustible forces of hopelessness, despair and rage will lead to outcomes that no one would like to see unfold and few of us would condone. Moreover, brush fires can become wild fires as we’ve seen throughout history and the world, including in the USA (think Boston Tea Party; Rosa Parks).

Under-girding the inequities and injustice we experience is a flawed zero-sum game paradigm that states someone has to lose while someone else wins at their expense. However, research of enlightened practice by my coauthor, Pedro Noguera and I has shown just the opposite is true. In the long-run, suspending the win-lose mental model allows for a more powerful understanding, that we can all win, and that being surrounded by a society filled with winners creates prosperity and quality of life for everyone. The words of Martin Luther King, “We are all inextricably bound to one another,” are actually accurate in very practical terms, which I’ll take up in another posting.

For now, let’s hope for an enlightened review of the fundamental lessons coming from Baltimore, and actions aligned with those lessons. If this is the outcome, America will experience an exciting new dawning.

Relational trust in schools among ADULTS is essential to student success.

Yet with teacher evaluation, new assessments, budget cuts and the like, trust can become frayed.

This SERIES—excerpted from the forthcoming third edition of the award-winning Failure Is NOT an Option®: 6 Principles That Advance Student Achievement in Highly Effective Schools; is focused on some specific strategies to build trust in schools.

Relationships are at the core of successful learning communities as well as student success. In its Set for Success report of 2002, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation summarizes, “Stated simply, positive relationships are essential to a child’s ability to grow up healthy and achieve later social, emotional, and academic success”.

Those positive relationships begin with the adults in the school building and district. The personal rapport among teachers, students, and parents influences students’ school attendance and their sustained efforts at difficult school tasks. The history of relations between the principal and the teaching staff determines teachers’ willingness to take on new initiatives, and the relationships among adults in the school greatly influence the extent to which students in that school will succeed academically. In essence, if the adults in the building get along, so will the students.

Building meaningful and productive relationships with people is complex; people are less predictable, and their emotions can be scary. How often are school leaders trained in the many nuances of dealing with an angry parent, a disgruntled staff member, or a crying teacher? Where is the how-to manual for these tasks? Moreover, who has time for these elements when the “real” work of increasing student achievement awaits?

Relationships are the real work of school improvement! Without people and relationships, who will administrators lead and how far will followers follow?

Building relational trust with the staff is a precursor to sustainable success. In our work in thousands of schools and districts, this trust has been built by the leader using various approaches.

The first strategy in this series is:

Listen First

It’s essential to recognize that everyone wants to be heard. The new-leader syndrome, however, often entails changing things quickly to establish authority. Many veteran leaders, on the other hand, may feel they already know what is best and may move forward without building consensus. In both cases, the “slow” part—listening—of going “fast” is cut out of the process and initiatives are short-lived.

The “listen first” strategy has many components:

  1. Show appreciation via understanding the other point of view. “I appreciate that you’ve been asked to do a LOT here…!”
  2. Finding merit in what the person does, thinks, or feels is important in showing appreciation– even when you don’t agree! “I realize that it seems easier to teach students in Like-ability groups, and you need a way to manage a lot of diverse learners. At the same time, we know putting students into tracks will doom many to staying in those tracks. Ai here’s what we need to pilot instead…”
  3. Communicate understanding in words and actions. Saying “I look forward to seeing you when you feel better” could be even more powerful were you to send over some cough drops too!
  4. Show appreciation for yourself as well! “Yes it’s been hard to handle so much change– imagine having to lead it all!…”

How Singapore Students Beat the World in “Problem-solving” and What this Means for America

In the first PISA exams designed to measure problem-solving, Singapore’s 562 score toped 44 countries and economies in an area that Western countries used to claim as their last domain of preeminence. After returning from Singapore to keynote the 2014 summit along with Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves and Louise Stoll for some 1300 delegates from throughout Asia, I have some insights as to how this country of only 5.5 million people has outflanked 44 nations, including the richest one on earth: the USA. Some of the critical factors in Singapore’s success can’t be reproduced in the west; some can; and others can be improved upon.

Culture is King

A school’s culture will eat policies, structures, strategies and assessments for lunch – and that includes Common Core assessments. The culture is the most powerful and enduring aspect of a learning community and the greatest determinant of the success of the students in that community. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, continues an attempt to change practice through competition that creates a few winners and millions of losers (our children). Marc Tucker, President of the National Center for Education and the Economy meanwhile correctly advocate changes in policy and structure – especially pertaining to supporting teachers in ways that stick instead of with sticks (paraphrasing Fullan). Yet these two opposing viewpoints have something in common with most analysis: they overlook the extent to which both the school culture and the larger culture in which it resides is the greatest lever for sustained success.

Tapping the strength of the Singaporean Culture

Imagine arriving late a city of the western nation of your choice, claiming your baggage and awaiting a cab that will take you to your hotel via a route unknown to you. What questions or concerns arise in this scenario? Will my bags arrive? How long will customs take? Will the driver understand me? Will I be taken the “tourist route?”
Now imagine your bags arrive almost as you approach the carousel, you go through customs in a matter of minutes, hop into a taxi driven by a Malaysian man who has undertaken 30 days of intensive cab-driver training following his 2-years in college. He easily maneuvers crime-free -streets of a city with no unemployment and a code of ethics and honesty that will allow you to safely put your GPS away while in the back of that taxi. You are in Singapore!
The driver is a “professional” who knows his way. The country has agreed upon ethics and strict enforcement of them such that neither your safety nor that of your wallet is at risk. And everyone is in concert on the top priorities of this country which include their children, and the education that will enhance not only their livelihoods, but their lives.
What are the cultural ingredients that have enabled Singapore to outpace all other nations in education? Can countries like the USA, with one of the highest per pupil educational expenditures in the world, adopt any of these practices given our differing cultures? What advantages, if any, does the US have vis a’ vis top performing nations, and how could those be maximized?

The ingredients for Success

“We want our young to think independently, to explore with confidence, and to pursue their passions. Education is not just about training for jobs. It is about opening doors for our children, and giving them hope and opportunities. They are our future.”

Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, Nov 2007 

  1. Integrity of leadership
    As the quote above indicates, leadership in Singapore is committed to its children and its people. There is alignment of purpose and action as well, and corruption is not tolerated. Punishments are swift and severe and their likelihood is mitigated in practical ways like paying top government officials upwards of $1M. By contrast, in America the assumption is that millionaires will leave their jobs to take one with the government that pays a fraction of what they formerly earned without a payout awaiting them on the back end, or worse, while still in office.Likewise, while their overall budget is a fraction of that of many Western nations, Singapore’s top spending priority is education after the military. Educators are well-paid professionals who do not determine the curriculum but do define how they will meet standards, which are clear.
    While moving toward Common Core Standards in America after more than a century of uncommon standards, we still have 23 states using Smarter Balanced Assessment, 14 using PARCC, and 14 “other.” Neither our national leaders (where congress rates lower in opinion polls than does the Russian Politburo) nor our state leaders (where several are under investigation, and one just narrowly avoided impeachment) have the public confidence necessary to bring about cohesive action on behalf of our children.
  2. Integrity of Implementation
    While Singapore has different types of schools, and conceivably a different quality of pedagogy, the attempt is to bring about consistency across curriculum, standards, instruction, and success for students in all schools. Not so in America. The April 23 issue of Education Week sums it up: “Like so much else in the world of teacher preparation, progress at readying new teachers for vastly different (Common Core) K-12 content expectations can probably best be described by one objective: inconsistent.”
    This inconsistency is found in all phases of our “system.” From teacher preparation in which “academic freedom” means learning based on individual professors’ predilections; to technology selection and professional development which is influenced less by student needs than by corporations’ marketing plans; to a patchwork of public, private and charter schools — each school community is more or less on its own to make myriad decisions and spending choices of $600B collectively.
  3. Practical Tradeoffs Favor the Common Good V. “Winner Take All”
    At the core of Singapore’s success is their hard-headed willingness to sacrifice some of their individual excesses in favor of their vision of collective success. The cab driver above shared that although he is not making as much money as he would like, and has little prospect at this point in changing that, he would not want to live anywhere else. Why? “It’s safe here, and my children are getting a great education.” People at the bottom of the economic latter in America could not say this. They don’t have healthcare, safety, or access to great education for their children. Singapore made a collective decision to turn away from these vast disparities they faced shortly after they were founded 50 years ago. Those at the top committed to the common good, and have since reaped the rewards. They don’t live in gated communities for protection, because like this cab driver, no one is hungry or desperate.

A Ray of HOPE for America

It’s highly unlikely that we will wake up any day soon and find cohesive leadership at the national level, cohesive implementation of our nation’s top education priorities, or a new understanding of how everyone winning (or at least having a viable stake in the game) is actually possible and far more productive and sustainable that the zero sum game we now hold so tightly (a topic my colleague Pedro Noguera and I address in a forthcoming Corwin book.). Future blog posts, however, will explore in greater depth these promising and proven strategies that we can pursue at local and regional levels. These are cutting-edge ways we can make our often destructive desire for rugged individualism and “choice” (even when it’s between many bad options) work in our favor:

  • At a system level, we can begin to tap our collective creativity in ways akin to open-source programming. I-Zone in NYC, for example, is bringing brilliant entrepreneurs into the school system to work side-by-side with educators, parents and students to collectively create tech solutions to problems defined by educators. Everyone co-creates and owns the final product, wants to implement it, and does so at a reduced cost.
  • At the regional and district level, we can tap the “Answer in the Room,” to steal the title from my last book, via a process for networking schools in a manner that yields the scaling, or diffusion, of effective strategies that are already successfully used somewhere within the network.
  • At the school and classroom levels, we can fully engage all learners and attain excellence through “equity” – assuring each student gets what s/he needs to succeed. For some students, this means putting the Arts into STEM ( ie STEAM); for others it’s project based learning. These strategies for unleashing student motivation, talent and joy will be fleshed out in future blogs.

There is hope; even in the most dire of circumstances. Mine is that we don’t have to get to that point. Our children need and deserve better, and it is up to us to give them that. Singapore provides some insights into how we can behave on their behalf. Now it’s up to us to incorporate those lessons into our own culture and context.

Lessons from Nelson Mandela

Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama will join millions to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela today and attempt to capture the essence of his greatness. Arne Duncan began the week with this quote from the extraordinary world leader: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use the change the world,” And indeed Mandela did. When asked to boil the essence of the man by John Anderson this week, Maya Angelou did not hesitate: ” He had enough courage to stand up and say ‘I am one’… to say I am a person who dares to care for other human beings… Courage is the number one virute without which you can’t practice any of the others.” In the award-winning Failure Is Not an Option book, I drew from her, Mandela, our Honorary Chair, Arch Bishop Tutu, and other great leaders across time to decipher the essence of “Courage” and return it to those who “care for other human beings” as part of their profession — educators. Thus Mandela’s passing reminds us of this greatness within, distilled in these five axioms:

1. Getting to your core — carifying as leaders and stewards of our children’s future who you are and why you have endeavored education as your life’s work. Mandela made his quest for social equity clear in his famous trial of 1964: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” What is at your core?

2. Assuring Constancy of purpose — following closely with the first axiom, this allows sway in strategy but not in mission. After the killing of 69 innocent countrymen at Sharpville township in 1960, Mandela led the ANC on a new road to armed insurrection. He later forswore violence and explained that violence “was not moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.” So wether we use Common Core, STAR, Project-Based Learning or the latest tech as our strategy, it is essential to hold tight to our vision and mission that defines us and success with our students.

3. Create organizational meaning — Incoherence and multiple, even competing priorities, are challenges for educators today. Likewise, Mandela had many competing interests and voices to take into consideration as he and his team formulated their focused strategy for advancing their cause of freedom. As Arch Bishop Tutu shared with me, quiet and reflective time — even while under perilous fire — is essential to long-term success.

4. Face the facts and your fears — The common competitor to this axiom is hubris and emotion. Few believed that South Africa would avoid what ArchBishop Tutu recently referred to as a “Blood bath” (invitational symposium October 8, 2013; Capetown, S.A) following the collapse of Apartheid. Yet in 2007, when asked about forgiving his captors, Mandela replied: “Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.” The facts were clear to him as was the strategy for moving forward. How and when do school leaders clarify what are those vital facts are and how then to best proceed?

5. Create sustainable relationships — Many of our politicians divisively use education as a tool for professional advancement; and some corporations see it as an industry to tap. Mandela, by contrast valued education to the point of helping form “Robbin Island University” in which prisoners taught one another various skills and languages including Afrikaans — the languge of their captors. When his lawyer first visited him in prison, Mandela shocked the eight guards around him by introducing each by name and referring to them as “my guard of honor.” His long term vision led him to invite one of those guards to his inauguration, an act few in US politics would even consider for colleagues across the isle. Yet is was these and so many such relations that allowed Mandela to advance toward actualizing his personal mission which was the greater good of his people, the country, and luckily, the rest of us.

May Mandela’s lessons prevail over the pettiness that divides us. And may he rest in peace as we act on those lessons.