Our Exclusive Interview with Ruth and Pat:
1. How did the two of you first meet?The two of us met almost 30 years ago while working in a small Alabama school system. Ruth was the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Pat was a classroom teacher. We worked together for several years, during which time Ruth became the Superintendent of the district, and Pat moved into the roles of Guidance Counselor and then Principal. Early on we became aware that we shared similar philosophies about teaching, learning, and the role of leadership in schools. We remained colleagues throughout our careers and continued to collaborate. As time passed, we worked together on many projects. We continue to help teachers improve and sustain teaching practices that result in increased student learning. We assist school and system leaders develop organizational cultures of continuous learning so they can use data to solve real-world education problems and anticipate, engage in, and benefit from all kinds of change.
2. What motivated you to first write Five Critical Leadership Practices?
We share a strong belief in providing students, teachers, and administrators with the necessary skills and resources to maximize their learning. The experiences from our evolving roles over the years solidified our understanding of the complexity of leading schools, especially in times of change. Through our work, we knew that there were a number of wonderful leadership models for education. But due to their diversity, it was often difficult to decide which one to use. So the first thing we did was research – for several years – exactly what leaders who increase student learning do. We observed and interviewed leaders who had significantly improved student learning. Finally, we correlated a number of the major leadership models with our research results and our Five Critical Leadership Practices emerged.
We believed that what was needed was a book to provide a resource, a kind of road map for leaders through case studies of other principals’ experiences. The best education leaders learn from one another, but, unfortunately, they do not always have access to the successes of others. Our book can serve as a valuable handbook for improving student learning, studying exceptional leadership models, and creating positive change.
3. What is the most important thing you would like readers to take away from your book?
Ruth:We believe that there are specific actions leaders can take that will ensure higher levels of learning for students, and many education leaders throughout the country are taking these actions now. The key for the future will be in the sharing of that knowledge and experience. Fortunately, we live in a time in which the transferal of knowledge and communication of experience is increasingly easy.
Pat:The most important concept for me is to convey the power of a culture of deliberate collaboration in schools. The potential for purposeful collaboration that includes students, teachers, parents, community members, and administrators is limitless. Deliberate collaboration supports the direction and beliefs of the school and energetically designs work that challenges students to learn content in greater depth.
4. What inspired you both to become educators?
Ruth: My grandmother, also my first grade teacher, taught school for almost 50 years. Over the years, she shared much of her philosophy with me through her words and actions. She believed in listening, in asking the right questions, in taking time to understand problems before you offer solutions, and in persevering until you reach your goal. She always focused on the direction, but most importantly, she focused on her students. She was my first mentor, and, even now, I continue to apply the lessons I learned from her in those early years.
Pat:My sixth grade teacher, Charlotte Gholson, practiced the concept that learning is more than taking tests or completing “seat work.” Dr. Gholson modeled the importance of a positive learning environment that makes learning exciting for all, especially struggling learners. I held on to that belief and wanted to do the same.
5. What was the proudest moment of your education career so far?
Ruth: There have been so many moments over the years, most of them related to when I could help someone reach a goal or overcome a struggle. A recent one, however, occurred when we were using the Five Critical Leadership Practices to provide a yearlong series of professional development meetings for assistant principals. They expressed their appreciation for the learning opportunity, and at the last meeting, they talked about how they had returned to their schools and shared the practices with their administrative teams, who, in turn, were grateful for the new ideas. I realized yet again the power of sharing among professionals and felt proud to be an integral part of that process.
Pat: I agree; I have had many proud moments. One was when, as principal, I helped my school achieve Blue Ribbon status. Now, however, I am proudest when I can help teachers and principals collaborate and make substantive changes in their schools.
6. Of the five practices, which do you think is the most important?
The practices must work in concert to establish a student-focused culture of learning. The practices are interdependent and without each practice in place, the focus falters, the direction is lost, and the culture of collaboration wanes. The practices are a cohesive whole with five very important components. Without all of the components, the whole does not function well.
7. What inspired you to start Education Solutions?
We had spent our entire careers working in a field where our colleagues, where the very institutions we all worked for, were focused on improving the lives and futures of young people every day. We missed that comradery and more importantly the purpose. When we retired, we just couldn’t stay away from schools – helping students, teachers, and especially school leaders.
8. As an educator, what was your favorite part about being in the classroom?
Pat:I love the interaction with students whether in an elementary classroom or a university doctoral cohort. We learn so much together. Collaborating with students and participating in their learning is a joy.
Ruth:Hands down –students of all ages – helping them realize their potential.
9. And finally, please tell us your favorite thing about education in one word.
Ruth and Pat together and as one: Collaboration!