PMP257: Leading with SOUL for the New School Year

Seven year ago, our son Jack was diagnosed with a rare disease. Kawasaki causes an inflammation of blood cells in young children. If untreated, it can lead to heart damage or death. He was hospitalized for two weeks. During that time, my wife and I sat many days watching medical teams work to bring down his fever and provide life-saving care. 

His doctors, nurses, technicians – even those who cleaned his room – each played an important role and each did so with compassion. Even after Jack came home from the hospital, he told us how much he missed the people who gave him such incredible care.

Lessons Learned from a Medical Team

As a school principal at the time, I was struck by the lessons I learned from watching this medical team:

  1. They were from diverse backgrounds, yet they shared a common goal.
  2. They each knew their roles and executed them well.
  3. They were committed to sound professional practice coupled with compassionate care.

These are the same qualities that make great teams, including educators. Last school year brought these lessons home when schools across the globe pivoted to provide students with education options in the midst of a global pandemic.

Challenges from 2020-2021

It was not an easy school year for anyone, and as I’ve spoken with educators, I’ve heard several common themes in the difficulties they managed:

  1. Educators were exhausted with the constant change and higher demands.
  2. Educators experienced decision-fatigue.
  3. Educators felt like their own credibility was being questioned.
  4. Educators felt like instructional outcomes took a back seat to other concerns.

Lessons Moving Forward

In addition to these challenges, I also heard these lessons from the past school year:

  1. We are resilient and can do hard things.
  2. Relationships still matter more than ever.
  3. Strong instructional practice transcends time and place.
  4. Teachers and students deserve strong leaders.

As you face a new school year, it may not be with the same kind of optimism you had even a few weeks ago. Variants of the pandemic and unvaccinated populations are complicating the first days of school. I’ve listened as educators struggle with how to approach another school year that involves uncertainty. 

Leading with SOUL

Earlier this summer, I finished a book by Tony Dungy called The Soul of a Team: A Modern-Day Fable for Winning Teamwork. Dungy led the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl victory in 2007, and he became the first head coach to lead his teams to the playoffs for ten consecutive years. 

He understands leadership and how to motivate great teams. In his book, The Soul of a Team, he uses the story of a fictional football team to illustrate the pitfalls of poor teams and the practices of strong ones. He uses the word SOUL as an acronym for four attributes of strong teams. These include:

  1. Selflessness

Dungy reminds readers that strong teams are made up of individuals who are looking out from the betterment of others. They are willing to sacrifice their own interest, invest the time necessary for growth, and compromise when necessary for the common good of everyone.

  1. Ownership

In a field obsessed with super stars, Dungy reminds others that teams are made up of people who each know their roles and responsibilities and execute them faithfully. Not everyone can be the quarterback. But the quarterback can find great success when each of his teammates plays his role on and off the field.

  1. Unity

Even more important than winning is the commitment to the relationships with those on the team. This means everyone is committed to a common goal that unifies them around this outcome regardless of differences of opinions, backgrounds or positions.

  1. Larger Purpose

Finally, Dungy reminds us that great teams care more about their communities and fans than they do about the game itself. This larger purpose may look a little different for each player, but when we see the greater meaning in our work, we perform with mission – knowing we are making a difference by inspiring, motivating, or helping someone else.

Let’s Wrap This Up

When I think back to my son’s own hospitalization seven years ago, I am thankful that he is a healthy 15 year-old high schooler. He is the product of a team of medical professionals who cared for him with selfishness, ownership, unity and larger purpose.

As you face the exciting or overwhelming prospect of a new school year, remember you are not alone. Your students have benefited from your commitment as an education professional. This year may you continue serving with SOUL!

Now It’s Your Turn

How would you define your larger purpose as you think about this new school year? Even with the challenges that may be ahead this new school year, how can you stay unified around a common mission of serving students? Thank you again for doing what matters!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker