I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently, and some of you know why. In January, I’m going to become the Founding Director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island. It’s a terrific opportunity to help the faculty grow and develop a distinctive new type of communication school that connects the traditional communication disciplines of journalism, film/media, public relations and communications studies with programs in writing and rhetoric and a graduate program in library and information science. In my view, this is the perfect constellation of departments for a 21st century learner. So imagine how excited I am about the possibilities!
Which leads me to reflect on the nature of leadership. Some of the best leaders I know I encountered at business school. For nearly 20 years, I taught media studies at Babson College and was fortunate to have been mentored by distinguished faculty leaders including Al Anderson, Allan Cohen, Sydel Sokuvitz and Dick Mandel.
So when the National Association for Secondary School Principals asked me to write about digital and media literacy, I wrote about some Philadelphia leaders, including Sam Reed of Beeber Middle School and Jessica Brown, principal of the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush High School. I thought about all the principals and school leaders who I have learned from, beginning with the legendary John Katsoulis, Assistant Superintendent of the Billerica Public Schools and Damian Curtiss, Chairman of the English Department. Back in the early 1990s, these two school leaders inspired me to help them make a difference in a single school district, and from them, I learned alot about the process of making change by supporting teachers as learners and leaders. One of my former students, Amy Purcell Vorenberg, is now a principal. She started her career as a teacher at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, where she participated in the Felton Scholars Program in Media Literacy, which I ran at Babson College. Today she is the Principal of the Philadelphia School.
One of the best principals I ever met was Dr. Paul Folkemer, who was the principal of the Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey and then became Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in Scarsdale, New York. Paul’s insight on managing educational change was informed by his own passion for “teaching the news.”
From these leaders, I discovered how important it is for educational leaders to listen well, take strategic risks, build meaningful relationships, see the big picture, work the system, and hold on to your own passions – even in balancing all the many challenges of management and administration. Leaders need the same kind of intellectual curiosity, flexibility and openness to new ideas that should drive the entire educational enterprise.