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Viewpoint: Leadership from the heart

Keith Jacobus

By Keith Jacobus, South Washington County Schools Superintendent

My vision is that we are a district that leads with our hearts, is managed with our heads, and is at the cutting edge of instructional excellence to ensure every student feels connected and cared for while reaching their ultimate academic potential.

To expand on my thoughts, I believe leadership is all about relationships. Teaching is leading kids, not pushing them. The most important thing we can do in our schools is to get to know kids on a personal basis. I want our students to love coming to school. I want them to love learning. I want our staff to love their jobs. None of that can happen without meaningful relationships and connectedness. To do our best, we all need to know we are cared for, depended on and most importantly, believed in!

Leading with our hearts opens us up to empathy and kindness. It makes us vulnerable to the influence from others and accepting through understanding of the lives, cultures and backgrounds of our kids. Leading with our hearts keeps us from accepting student failure without the herculean effort we must make to reach and help some students. Leading with our hearts keeps us from creating policies and practices that may be efficient but have far reaching negative consequences for kids who make a mistake. Leading with our hearts keeps us grounded in why we wanted to work in education, and how wonderful and powerful this profession is that we have chosen.

Managing with our heads helps us maintain a system-thinking focus. It helps us to create equity within our system without setting precedents we cannot keep. It allows us to demonstrate wisdom and mentor kids while appropriately holding them, and ourselves, accountable for doing things right and doing the right thing. Managing with our heads helps us lead with integrity.

I believe as a learning organization, instructional excellence should be what we are all about. One size cannot, and should not, fit all. The more we know about learning, the more flexible we can be in finding the right approach to reach all kids. Instructional excellence encompasses a positive and effective approach to classroom management. If we know our kids well, we know what motivates them and how to set the stage in our classrooms, so behavior does not become an issue. If we truly are instructional experts, we are culturally responsive, we focus on relationships and develop a deep understanding of the backgrounds, hopes and dreams of our students. We also teach and assess on a personal basis that maintains equity for all kids. We create the classrooms and schools we would all want our own children to attend!

If we can reach this vision for our district, we will have a community where every student has a positive experience and is set up for long-term success. We will continue to work towards that goal on behalf of all of our students and so that every family who knows about our work wants to attend.