Learning the lesson

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From our office I can see across a stretch of grass to a bird feeder. It’s early Summer, eggs have hatched and baby birds are hopping about. In our area the mainstay of the bird population is a flock of rowdy sparrows.

So, a couple of days ago my eye was caught by the sight of an adult sparrow being followed about by a fluttering, tweeting junior. Beak open, imploring cries and lots of wing flapping – a really needy case! The leading bird flew to the bird feeder and was quickly followed by junior, who sat in a nearby branch watching every move.

Junior had little knowledge and still needed to acquire important life skills. Senior had both in abundance so he set about showing it. He was in stage one of leadership, demonstrating authority through knowledge and skill. Senior helped himself to a beak full of seed, deftly manoeuvring to scoop it out from the feeder and eating it with barely a single balancing wing flutter. Junior was all eyes but there was a problem. When junior flew to the feeder, senior was still there strutting his stuff and blocking the way. While ever senior sparrow as focused on showing his abilities, junior had no room to learn.

After a few minutes of general wing flapping and tweeting on behalf of junior, senior sparrow grasped that there was an issue and transitioned to stage two of leadership: knowledge and skill sharing. He pecked a bit of seed from the feeder, flew up to the hedge and popped the seed into the open beak of junior. Now junior was actually being fed. Some of the noise and wing flapping abated, at least while the feeding was taking place. But it all kicked off again as soon as senior was back on the feeder and pretty soon the novelty to flying back and forth just to feed junior wore off.

Faced with the problem that sharing time and effort wasn’t going to lead to a long term solution and was becoming rather wearing, senior opted for stage three of leadership development: professional generosity. He flew to the feeder, pecked out a bit of seed and then flew back to junior but didn’t offer any of the food. Instead he repeated the journey several times. In the end junior fluttered to vacant peg on the feeder and had a go at feeding himself. It wasn’t pretty for the first few occasions but fairly soon junior was doing a good job of feeding himself.

As school leaders it can feel safer to demonstrate expertise and share knowledge without actually taking the risk that a team member might struggle in the early stages of trying for themselves. The mantra of ‘quicker if I do it myself’ seems more effective but, in the long term it means a lot of time and effort in doing and a lot less in leading.

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