There’s no turning back now! With word out about my students’ efforts to raise $25,000 to build a school through the Pencils of Promise organization, we’re moving full steam ahead. Fortunately, 10A’s excitement is at an all-time high; but excitement alone can’t build a school!
As the leader of this project, I aim to give my students the structure, organization, and direction they need to be successful, while at the same time, giving them the ownership and creative liberties to feel invested and be the reason for the project’s success. That last part is really important to me. While I am certainly working hard to spread the word about this initiative in my own networks, my goal is to give students the opportunity to interact directly with potential donators (in America, Bulgaria, and all over the world). Over the course of the next few weeks, you will start to hear more directly from my students via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (account details coming soon), so GET EXCITED! In addition to creating all the content for our fundraising campaign and sharing it over social media, they are also spearheading local Bulgarian fundraising events that will help us both engage the community and reach our goal.
Now in an effort to provide my students with a framework that sets them up for success, I wanted to ensure that my students and I were all aligned on three things: our mission, our strategy for accomplishing that mission, and the values we’d need to embrace to be successful. We started with the below:
Once aligned on our mission and strategy, I split the class into four teams (students were able to rank their preferences after hearing each team’s responsibilities). Every team is crucial to our success, and I made sure to let the students know how important their roles are.
Much of our class time over the next few weeks will be dedicated to group work, as each team strives to execute against its strategy. The group aspect of this project is incredibly important because it embraces a fundamentally different teaching methodology than is typically used in Bulgaria. The education system here is generally somewhat archaic, which means there is a lot of lecturing and very little opportunity for peer learning and collaboration. Working together in groups to accomplish something important will help my students develop interpersonal, teamwork, and leadership skills. Check out the teams hard at work!
With this project on my mind 24/7, sometimes I forget that life goes on outside the classroom as well! I had a busy weekend. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. on Friday morning to catch the 5 o’clock bus to Sofia. After celebrating the amazing career of Doctor Julia Stefanova Friday evening (she is stepping down after 23 years at the helm of the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission), I caught another bus to Smolyan, a town in south-central Bulgaria near the border with Greece. After skiing with friends and Fulbright colleagues Caleb and Chase on Sunday, I spent twelve and a half hours on three different busses to get back to Silistra late last night. In total, that’s 24 hours of bus time from Friday to Monday…yikes!
With so much free time, I had the opportunity to read From Values to Action, a book written by Kellogg professor and former Baxter CEO Harry Kraemer. In it, Kraemer outlines four key principles that are essential for creating and leading values-based organizations: self-reflection, balance and perspective, true self-confidence, and genuine humility. Many of the book’s lessons resonated with me. In fact, I couldn’t help but make constant comparisons to my experiences working for Target (both as a manager and as an analyst, or “in the cube” as Kraemer calls it). But Kraemer maintains that these principles have wide usages, and “are not solely for CEOs, managers, or leaders who have many people reporting to them” (p. 8). Reflecting on the read (there was plenty of bus time for that too…), it dawned on me that several concepts in the book related to what we are working towards in our school build project and how we intend to accomplish it:
From Values to Action: “We could operate as a team only if we had an overarching purpose or objective around which the entire team could be brought together. Without a broader sense of purpose and direction, a team would run the risk of disintegrating into individual players going off in separate directions” (p. 145).
- Reflection: Establishing our mission statement was a good place to start! Though our mission to “work together as a team to raise the $25,000 needed to build a school through the Pencils of Promise organization” is simple, it ensures alignment towards a common goal. I hope this will help my team put aside personal beliefs if they contradict or detract from our goal.
From Values to Action: “To build, motivate, and engage your team members will require that they be as passionate about achieving an objective as you are: (p. 139).
- Reflection: In my last post, you read about how important philanthropy and volunteerism are to me. For the past few months, I’ve been working hard to instill those values in my students as well, and it’s been fun to see some of that hard work pay off! After studying the problems that exist within education (poor literacy rates, resource inadequacies, and lack of physical school buildings) and their ability to do something about it (crowdfunding, spreading awareness, etc.), my students have more passion than they know what to do with! To keep our motivation high, we start each class with a video to remind ourselves of our purpose. Check out our most recent one below. (My personal favorite line: “We believe that where you start in life shouldn’t dictate where you finish”)
From Values to Action: “With balance, you are genuinely interested in other people’s input and feedback as you make the final decision. In fact, you may discover that their recommendations are better than your initial approach. You want them to challenge you and each other as they explore how best to accomplish the team’s objectives” (p. 139).
- I’ve tried to teach my students that it’s okay to disagree with me (or any teacher for that matter). Constructive debate and diverse perspectives lead to better, more well thought out decisions. Not to mention, we have completely different backgrounds and ranges of experiences, so it’s only natural that we see things differently! Sometimes in Bulgaria students are too comfortable assuming the teacher is always right. One thing I value about the American education system is that it emphasizes critical thinking and encourages individuals to draw their own conclusions as long as they can support them. This project is no different. I brought a few ideas to the table when I initially challenged my students to raise $25,000, but I also encouraged my students to complement or challenge those ideas with their own.
If you’re an aspiring leader, I highly recommend reading From Values to Action. The key lessons apply to leaders in any sort of organization. I hope that reading it towards the beginning of this project can help me be the best teacher possible as I guide my students through the execution phases of our project.