Equity in Action: An Educator's View on Learning, Teaching, and Leading

Equity in Action: An Educator's View on Learning, Teaching, and Leading

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Playing With Dolls

I recently had the good fortune to meet with, Lisa Brandenburg, the president of Seattle Children’s Hospital.  As we spoke in her office, I noticed six dolls of differing sizes across the room on a shelf behind her desk. I inquired as to whether they were matroyoshkas (or nesting dolls), referring to the wooden dolls of decreasing size that are placed one inside the other. I was curious as to their significance to her, as nesting dolls always remind me of how we, as educators, must come together to encircle each student with the emotional, social, and academic supports necessary for them to succeed in school and in life.

Lisa then generously took some of her precious time to educate me, as I became her student. She told me that the dolls were actually Japanese Daruma dolls - symbols of good luck - and explained how the round meditating silhouettes of Bodhidharma (credited with establishing Zen Buddhism in Japan and Chan Buddhism in China) are commonly used to set goals and inspire commitment. She pointed out that the eyes of the colorful dolls are are not painted, as the coloring of them is part of the goal-setting and goal-completion process - one eye is painted when a goal is set and the other is painted when the goal is achieved. 

I also learned that Daruma dolls, usually made of papier-mâché, are normally weighted at the bottom in order to return to an upright position when tilted over. This characteristic shows perseverance and shares a connection to the Japanese proverb: 七転び八起き – Fall down seven times, stand up eight. As I thought about the words used to describe the doll – luck, commitment, and perseverance – it became apparent that commitment and perseverance, which we can control, make "luck" possible. This short conversation in the office of the hospital president ultimately sparked additional reflection on the following leadership steps to goal achievement:  
  • Intentionally select your team / collaborate – There are informal and formal leaders in every school – make sure that you empower those with multiple perspectives while moving the cause forward.  Remember John Wooden’s sage counsel to, “Whatever you to in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”
  • Clearly Communicate your vision – While the plan to achieve the goal is not predetermined, the vision must be communicated for momentum to build. Reverend Theodore Hesburgh noted, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” 
  • Collectively Set Goals – Ownership can be a “me thing” or a “we thing.”  While the former gets results faster, the latter gets the results you want.  Modern day motivator, Tony Robbins, shared his perspective by pointing out that, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible visible,” as goal-setting provides short-term motivation in working toward long-term results. 
  • Willfully Commit to Achievement – Many successful teachers work with each class at the beginning of each year to collectively develop class norms, and students show their commitment to the rules by signing the finalized posted version.  Similarly, principals often inform team members that each will need to sign off on the school action plan as work begins.  Taking a stand and showing commitment is an important step toward increasing collective focus toward achieving a goal. Leaders must distinguish between interest and commitment - interest wanes, but commitment endures.
  • Actively Persevere – Challenges will arise and the path to success may be difficult; however, this is when mindset matters most and tenacity triumphs.  (After all, if accomplishing a difficult goal were easy, then everyone would do it.)  Be a leader who inspires the team and tips the scale from desperation and discouragement to dedication and determination.
  • Sincerely Celebrate – At the end of each year, traditional Daruma dolls are brought back to the temple where they were purchased. Gratitude is expressed and they are set on fire in a ceremony.  Consider how you announce and celebrate completion of goals, both large and small.  While you may not burn the actual school improvement plan, acknowledgement and celebration of even small objectives demonstrate sincere appreciation and can spark a lasting fire in the hearts of team members.

As Lisa concluded her tutorial, she took one of the hollow, red dolls off of the shelf and showed me how one eye had been colored in to represent the goal that had been set months earlier. She turned the doll around and displayed the signatures of her team members, which affirmed the commitment of each to achieve the common goal written on the bottom of the figure. With a energized lilt in her voice, Lisa declared that her team was close to achieving their common objective, and she would soon color in the other eye. I realized how fortunate it was for me that a select team from Seattle Children's Hospital had visited Japan to learn collaboratively with colleagues abroad - a trip that would unknowingly impact my life and expand my perspective. 

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