By Shannon Buerk
Have you ever heard the saying, “Great minds think alike”? At e2L, we believe that great minds think differently.
In education, however, there is not currently diversity in the superintendency. Even though 77% of educators are female, less than 25% of superintendents are female. Only 1.8% of superintendents are Hispanic, and only 2% are African-American.
I had the honor to facilitate a panel on diversity in leadership at a retreat I attended recently. There was such a diversity of representation in these leaders and the way they think, that it provoked our thinking and proved that great minds really do think differently.
The four panelists included Hispanic, African-American and female superintendents from Texas: Robert J. Duron, TASB Associate Executive Director of District Services and former superintendent; Gayle Stinson, Superintendent, Lake Dallas ISD; Dr. LaTonya Goffney, Superintendent, Lufkin ISD; and Dr. Michael McFarland, Superintendent, Crowley ISD. The audience included superintendents from across Texas who lead mid-urban and suburban school districts and are passionate about Texas education.
Here are four valuable insights gained from the panel discussion:
Diversity is not about race or ethnicity alone.
It also encompasses diversity of backgrounds and experiences. We are all a product of our experiences.The richness of that collection of experiences shapes our thoughts, ideas, actions, and reactions. For example, many times, diversity of experience is related to economics. Poverty limits experiences that help us make sense of the world.
It is important to tell our stories when we are leaders.
It is critical to share where we came from; that is what gives hope to others.
When others see someone in the superintendency leading an organization, it may be intimidating and seem like those leaders were born leaders. We all know the struggle and the challenges we have faced. Many of us are first generation college students. Many have come from poverty. It is important to share those stories so that others who want to be leaders see there is hope.
When we are in positions of leadership, it is important to encourage others to rise to the occasion even if they do not yet see themselves as leaders.
All of the panelists named mentors, mostly mentors who were not the same gender or ethnicity, who had seen something in each of them and encouraged them to seek positions of leadership. The only way to increase diversity in leadership is for those currently in leadership positions to recruit, encourage and mentor others who may not look like them or think like them.
Finally, diversity in leadership is not just desirable because it is politically correct or the right thing to do.
Research is very clear that diversity brings results. People who have different backgrounds and perspectives make the best, most productive and most effective problem-solving teams. Diversity in leadership will enhance our ability as educators to innovate our systems and embrace the challenges of the present and future.
True courageous leadership brings diversity, in all its forms, to the table. When we lift each other up, we ensure equity of experience from leadership all the way to our classrooms.
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