Leadership. Thinking in terms of opportunity, not recovery

There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”. – Leonard Cohen


By Mac Bogert


Let us suppose you have lived in a house for some time, say a decade. While you are away on vacation, a violent derecho pulverizes the place. You have terrific insurance, so everything will be paid for. You can focus on creating everything exactly as it was, or ask yourself, “Why don’t we take this disaster as an opportunity to make some changes? We’ve always wanted to have more windows in the living room, fewer walls so things weren’t so confined, and … ”


In this year of living dangerously, we have all changed, and we have all been changed. Perhaps we can cast off the habits that attach us to what is no longer. Maybe in this discontinuity of the pandemic, this crack, we can welcome the light of change into our schools, see what it reveals, and take action.

The Aslan Phenomenon

Roger van Oech loves creativity, running, and dogs, though perhaps not in that order. When he moved to his new place, he ran hither and yon to explore. That led him to discover Aslan, an eager dog in a fenced yard, who thought Roger was a gift from above. Thereafter, Roger would time his dash so that his mid-run break came to Aslan’s yard.

One day he ran up to find an empty yard. The man who lived there happened to be outside, so Roger asked, “Where’s Aslan?

“We had to put him down. I’m sorry, but he had something that couldn’t be treated.”

The next day Roger took his run and found himself stopping by Aslan’s yard, even though the reason for doing so was no longer there. He had stumbled on what he named The Aslan Phenomenon — we adopt a habit because it works in a particular time and place; things change, but we repeat what we are accustomed to whether it works or not. Hmm. Schools? Top-down control. Separating students by age. Trickle-down curriculum. Teacher-, rather than student-developed objectives. Bells and periods. Tests and scores. Answer-focused instruction.

One hundred percent virtual learning arose from emergency. Though we muddled through, we still have not devoted ourselves to using the mix of possibilities in front of us. If we can use this interregnum for development, not just for return, we can remove the barriers to learning. Now is the perfect time to create a learning community where students will thrive: “Build it and they will come.”


Do not just reopen, open up

I started my teaching career blessed with a delightful principal. He intercepted me in the lobby on my first day, guessed immediately who I was (hair down to my shoulders, deer-in-the-headlights face) and introduced himself with, “I work for you. Got it?” It was true, and it was wonderful.

After two years, he was replaced, reassigned because he was “too close to the faculty and staff.” His successor’s big initiative? Every teacher had to provide him with the following week’s behavioral objectives, stated only in the infinitive form of verbs. The word “learning” in a B.O. brought a reprimand. I was called down often to explain why my B.O.’s were not correctly stated. When he would ask me, “Mr. Bogert, what is the purpose (which he pronounced more like porpoise) of this activity?” I would reply, “I’m not sure yet. Can we ask my students after we’re done?” If I wore my planning like a loose garment and let the purpose reveal itself as the students grappled with discovery, they blossomed. Their purpose was no longer subsumed under mine.

I am a wischange - Leadership. Thinking in terms of opportunity, not recoverye guy — iconoclast, if you will — and yet, my conflict with the new principal came from what, for me, was an ethical question: “What about our school stands in the way of students’ engagement and accountability?” Back then, It felt like the answer was nearly everything.As we stumble forward from this medical, financial, social, and educational implosion, we have a chance to think in terms not of recovery, but of opportunity.

Like the house in the first paragraph. And why not guide that search, based on heightened engagement and accountability for our extraordinary clients (aka children)? Why not build, based on implicit trust in their capacity, and treat them with respect — unconditional, positive regard for their need, for their inherent willingness to learn and grow. Let them plan, starting from where they want to go, not from where we are.

Let them be the drivers for the design and implementation of the community of learning that has never been more possible. We may not get this chance again.


Virtual Wisdom for the Ages

The initial chorus for virtuality: “I hate Zoom.” “I can’t wait to get back in the classroom.” “Please turn your camera on.” “UNMUTE!”

Heraclitus suggested “Dogs bark at what they don’t understand.” I did my share of barking about 100 percent virtual. I now engage with my leadership students via five different virtual platforms. I am also back in school myself. And the litany is changing (mine too):

“I kinda like walking twenty feet to my computer, rather than the beltway at rush hour.”

“When people share on camera, they get right to the point.”

“All of our video rectangles are the same size. None of us is more important.”

“Breakouts are my favorite thing. It’s like ‘Beam me up, Scotty.’”

“Looking at myself talking used to freak me out, but now I’m reminded that we’re all in this together. It’s not me and them; it’s just us.”


We humans are flexible (often in spite of ourselves), curious, and communal. Though we may not realize it, in this year-long voyage we have developed ways to create a powerful platform for connecting and learning. Does it work equally well for everyone? Of course not, no more than the brick-and-mortar classroom did or will.

Let us take the best of virtual and discard the rest. The democratization, rules of engagement, and learning efficacy of virtuality are a work in progress. If we frame back in the classroom and this year’s experiment as opposites, we will reap regret. They can be stitched together with our diligence. We can be rightfully skeptical about our Aslan Phenomena and leave the chaff behind. Let us be very thoughtful and very inclusive about what we move forward to.



About the author

 Mac Bogert is president of AZA Learning, and a leadership columnist for some of the leading education media platforms. He began his career as an English teacher. For the past 25 years, Mac has focused on the intersection of leadership and learning. In between, he is a musician, professional actor, yacht charter captain, staff development consultant, curriculum designer, and author of “Learning Chaos.”


  • Originally published in Achieve3000 Inc. Magazine
  • Artículo proporcionado por nuestro colaborador ININED