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Recipe for Personal Growth — Knowledge, Experience and Coaching.

Few will argue:

Developing the people of an organization is a critical role of the leadership of any system. Great leaders continually work for the personal growth of their people. In education and industry alike, the growth of a system requires the development of the individuals who do the work. Another way to look at this maxim — without the growth of the individuals in a system, the system cannot grow. Many Managers put most of their energies and efforts into the system, into the organization. Leaders develop people.

As I study leadership and personal development I find the recurring threads of Knowledge, Experience, and Coaching. These three components are integral to the personal/professional growth process.

Knowledge and Experience are closely linked together, they are not, however, synonyms. Imagine if you will. A team of firefighters. Every member of the team has the knowledge and skill set required to extinguish the fire, make the rescue and save the day (knowledge and skills). There are usually few members of the team who have the wisdom necessary to know when to fight and know when to evacuate (experience).

As the cliche would have us believe, “Knowledge is power.” There are many ways we can disseminate knowledge to our faculties. In-service, Professional Development Opportunities, Books, Websites, Twitter Chats, Articles, PodCasts, YouTube, Professional Conversations. The list goes on and on. We live in an age where teachers have more opportunities to gain knowledge than ever before. Knowledge is the basis for practice. Without the pre-requisite knowledge, teachers cannot complete the complex tasks asked of them in the classroom. There is a baseline of pedagogy all educators must attain. Information is everywhere. The right information can be assimilated into knowledge. The best school leaders help sort the wheat from the chaff to help funnel the most pertinent information towards their faculty.

All too often in education, the term “Experience” means longevity rather than the experience of events and exposures. True experience is earned through the “doing” of school, through trials, through failures, and through successes. My first seven years in education were spent in some of the very, best schools in the nation. My students would achieve regardless of my skills or knowledge; my students were successful in spite of my abilities rather than because of them. One semester as an administrator in a rural Alaskan boarding school provided me with more experience than the first seven years of my career. In this Alaskan school, my knowledge increased tremendously. So did my opportunity to apply the knowledge.

As a school leader, I prefer to look at “experience” as providing opportunities to my faculty. To develop leaders, we must provide leadership opportunities. To build instructional excellence, we need to give our teachers the opportunity to try new and innovative ideas. School leaders need to give teachers the support necessary to ensure they have the knowledge required for growth and the opportunities to apply their knowledge to their craft.

Teachers who feel pressure for their jobs will not innovate, they will not thrive, they will master a level of perceived safety and growth will stall. Teachers who feel empowered, and valued through opportunity will continue to grow as educators and professionals.

I was a college football coach for nine years and a high school coach for many years before that. One of the many things I learned from my experience coaching is that you cannot “yell a kid into playing hard.” Translating this statement to the curricular world = leaders cannot guide their people towards innovation by threats and intimidation. Coaching is an intimate process. Coaching requires time and commitment from the coach and the teacher. The coach helps the teacher work towards improvement by identifying meaningful goals and systematically working towards their completion. Step by step the coach and the teacher identify and remove obstacles, articulate next steps, and work towards personal and professional growth.

One of the greatest responsibilities of leadership is the responsibility to develop the people of the organization to improve the system. Personal/professional growth requires the right combination of knowledge, experience, and coaching. Great leaders have the skills to provide all three for their people.