Three Simple Yet Valuable LessonsOver some twenty years studying and practicing educational leadership, I have come to learn three simple yet valuable lessons about the resources we have available to us as school leaders. First, the resource over which we have the greatest control is ourselves. Acute self-awareness and maintaining a work/life balance are critical to reaching one’s own potential. Second, the most important resource available to us is our people. We must invest heavily in recruiting and hiring the right staff members and supporting them through effective professional development to help them continue to grow and learn.
Finally, we are unlikely to get substantial funding increases to assist us in our work. The realities of a slowly growing economy coming out of a difficult recession, high property and income taxes, and competing government priorities make it unlikely that education dollars will increase in any significant way. Building strong partnerships can be a catalyst to generating capacity when we otherwise would be limited. In the Newton Public Schools, we have worked hard to develop useful partnerships with internal stakeholders, local entities, and external organizations to broaden the learning available to our students and staff.
A noteworthy example has been our educational partnership agreement over the past six years with the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC, otherwise known as Picatinny Arsenal). This relationship has been a tremendous asset to our ability to provide our students with world-class educational opportunities. Over the past six years, the STEM Education Office at Picatinny Arsenal has provided us with access to grants and adult mentors for our competitive robotics team; guest engineers to assist in our science classes; teacher training sessions in technical fields; software games to enhance student engagement in mathematics; and site visits to show students the kind of STEM related careers that are available to them. Our students have reaped the lion’s share of these benefits, although the activities have also provided ARDEC with positive public relations and the ability to share R&D career awareness with their future workforce.
Yet good partnerships must continue to be mutually beneficial in order to stay strong and productive. We are poised to take our relationship to the next level with a promising concept for professional development. Teachers want to engage in more hands-on science learning and to become more familiar with the rapidly changing nature of careers in high tech environments. Engineers want to learn better methods to engage decision-makers by communicating their research in ways that help sell their ideas. The goal of our proposal would be to have scientist/engineers pair up with teacher/educators to mentor each other in their areas of expertise as a field experience. Pre- and post-activities will be included to facilitate the learning. In the end, we hope to reap the dual benefits of a sharing of technical insight and an extended network of professional contacts.
Good relationships take time and effort, resources which are at a premium for all of us. We have found that a commitment to mutually beneficial partnerships can produce profound results that go well beyond the initial investment.