Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Principal of Potemkin

As the story goes, in the late 18th century, Catherine the Great of Russia announced she would tour the southern part of her empire, accompanied by several foreign ambassadors. The governor of the area, Grigory Potemkin, desperately wanted to impress these visitors. And so he went to remarkable lengths to showcase the country’s accomplishments.
For part of the journey, Catherine floated down the Dnieper River, proudly pointing out to the ambassadors the thriving hamlets along the shore, filled with industrious and happy townspeople. There was only one problem: it was all for show. It is said that Potemkin had assembled pasteboard facades of shops and homes. He had even positioned busy-looking peasants to create the impression of a prosperous economy. Once the party disappeared around the bend of the river, Potemkin’s men packed up the fake village and rushed it downstream in preparation for Catherine’s next pass.

Although modern historians have questioned the truthfulness of this story, the term “Potemkin village” has entered the world’s vocabulary. And I wonder, how many leaders have ended up serving as the Principal of Potemkin? Some leaders may have lost their way, relying on themselves, failing to connect with other leaders, build their PLN, and grow their capacity. Left alone to maneuver through political pressures and regulations being passed by state and federal officials, often by those least understanding of its impact, many principals find themselves caught in the trap of setting up a facade school, disguised as the next best fix. And because many initial changes generally work due to the excitement and enthusiasm of "school reform", many leaders fall victim to making others believe they are better than they really are. They put on the dog-and-pony show with all the bells and whistles, but have forgotten the focus.
I think we can avoid becoming the Principal of Potemkin if we focus on learning: Learning as leaders, and building a school culture that centers on learning for adults and for students. When we have this as our focus, it matters not who passes by with the education reform flavor-of-the-month. 
This is why I enjoy conferences such as #NAESP15 I'm able to connect with other leaders, who expand my learning and capacity. I'm also able to continue my understanding of what learning is, and how I can influence the learning of our greatest gifts - our students.