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What Do You Do All Day?

This is going to be one of those I-think-there’s-a-connection-here sort of posts that will wander around until either stumbling across that link, or ending abruptly.

Anyway, last night I sat in on an online discussion around the topic of leadership, specifically in schools and school districts, let by Will and Shelly, and one of the fundamental questions we tossed around was “does a good leader need to also be a visionary?”.

I put forward the idea (and was probably in the minority in supporting it) that good leaders don’t necessarily need to be big visionaries as long as they surround themselves with creative, imaginative people and are open to the change that comes with new ideas.

This morning on my longer-than-usual drive I was thinking about that conversation as I listened to an interview with Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and, no matter how you feel about the company’s products, someone most would credit with being a “visionary” leader in the world of personal digital products.

During the program, one of the reporters asked him a simple but very relevant question: What do you do all day?

She was, of course, trying to get Jobs to talk about his role in the development of products at the company but maybe that’s a question we should also be asking our school leaders.

What do you do all day to produce “insanely great” products (in Steve’s frequently quoted phrasing), which in our case are well-educated students, prepared to be successful after graduation?

Jobs’ response to the question was very business-oriented, as you might expect.

But the nutshell version basically boils down to Apple employs many creative and talented people and his primary role is to clear the obstacles, foster collaboration, and allow them to use their talents to the greatest degree possible.

I would hope our leaders, both inside and outside of the education structure, would view their role exactly the same way when it comes to improving student learning.

Unfortunately, these days things seem to be heading in the opposite direction.

To more standardized classrooms, rigid, narrow curriculums, and prescriptive teaching designed to meet the growing demand for more standardized testing.

So, I wonder how things might change if Steve Jobs was leading American education.

Instead of Bill Gates.


  1. Sean Nash

    Agreed. I was the one that asserted “If you do not consider yourself a visionary… then sit close by with someone who is.”

  2. Carolyn Foote

    I like the word “foster.” As in, asking you as an on the ground educator–what can I do to help you accomplish this? Or do you need any help? Or what obstacles are making this job harder?

    It’d give administrators a lot of information about how their school “really” works and it’d make the classroom instructor feel so much more supported and enabled.

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