Brad Gustafson is someone who celebrates his students and staff like few others. Check his Twitter feed on any given day and you will see what I mean. And that is why Brad’s admission was so powerful. During our interview, I even gave him an opportunity to back out. But Brad is not that kind of leader. Not that kind of person. He said, “Jon that would be too easy.”
He is about as connected as an educator could possibly be. He is always finding new and innovative ways to challenge himself, his staff and his students. Actually, his reach extends much farther than that. Through his book, Renegade Leadership, his 30 second takes, his UNEarthed podcast that he hosts with Ben Gilpin and countless other initiatives, he has managed to challenge the rest of us.
The mistake that Brad made was one he didn’t even realize he was making. As previously mentioned, Brad does all that he can to celebrate the amazing things that are taking place at his school. He tweets out photos and videos so that the rest of us learn from and with he and his staff.
But at the end of the day, what matters most to Brad are the relationships that he forms with his staff, his students and his community. And as he admitted on the show, the way in which he was feeling about people just wasn’t coming through. He was so eager to highlight staff that were trying new and innovative practices that he lost sight of those that were not. Just because staff members weren’t doing things differently, didn’t mean they weren’t doing things well.
This wasn’t an easy admission for Brad. I could tell that it genuinely bothered him that he had overlooked staff. And though it was unintentional, it bothered him nonetheless.
My failure was…
do you see how I stalled there?
It’s like hard to even say…
but the failure was I disregarded
and I think diminished and made people feel bad
who were doing standard work.
Work that is critical to the operation of a classroom and school.
I don’t think I celebrated and noticed
and encouraged that enough.
And that makes me feel bad.
Like several other guests, Brad didn’t know that he was making a mistake until it was pointed out to him. And while these types of mistakes are seemingly innocent, they can often be more painful once they are brought to one’s attention. The fact that we have no idea that we are making a mistake, often causes us to question ourselves.
In Brad’s case, it was brought to his attention by several staff members. They noticed that many of his tweets were taken in classrooms in which teachers were taking risks with new and innovative things such as drone challenges, maker spaces or genius hour. But very rarely was he tweeting out photos from classrooms in which something new and innovative was not being done.
This oversight bothered Brad a lot. He is someone that prides himself in building relationships and he realized that at the end of the day, if people weren’t feeling valued and appreciated then that was a problem. As he mentioned, “perception is reality” and the fact that he valued each and every staff member didn’t matter unless each and every staff member felt valued.
That staff members were willing to approach Brad, the principal, and share with him how they felt, is a testament to the fact that he has built very strong relationships with his staff. That couldn’t have been easy for them to do and it must have been even more difficult for him to hear. To know that members of your staff don’t feel valued and possibly diminished is painful. Lucky for Brad he had staff members willing to point this out to him. Imagine if he hadn’t. Would he have continued making the same mistake?
I doubt it.
I truly believe that Brad would have figured it out on his own. It may have taken a bit longer. But he was already beginning to look inward and examine why it was he was feeling differently about certain staff. More than anything, he knew that something wasn’t right. And once he found out what he had been doing, or not doing, he began to change. Brad owned his mistake. He didn’t make excuses and he didn’t try to explain it away or blame someone else. He took full responsibility.
Moving forward, Brad knew that he had to start doing some things differently. He began making a conscious effort to notice and share the amazing things that were taking place in all his classrooms. Regardless of whether or not they were new and innovative or tried and true.
While I was writing this piece, some months after the interview, I wanted to see if Brad did what he said he was going to do. That is, begin to highlight a wide variety of classroom activities and not just the things that may be new or cutting edge.
No surprise at all. True to his word, the tweets I pulled up were diverse. They were. I saw one of students working in makerspaces, one of a student who had returned to school to pal floor hockey and one of students enjoying a beach day in their classroom.
Do I think Brad will ever stop highlighting and piloting new and innovative ideas? Not a chance! But do I think Brad will ever again overlook someone again? I am quite certain that Brad will not. Now will he make a different mistake? I sure hope so. And I have no doubt that he will share it with us in some form or another. Brad is not one to hide his mistakes. In fact, in his book, Renegade Leadership, he shares a mistake in each chapter.
Hopefully, reading about Brad’s mistake will help you feel better.
Because maybe you’ve made the same mistake before.
Or, maybe you’ll make the same mistake in the future.
Either way, I hope you come away knowing that we all make mistakes and we can all move forward from them.
Just like Brad did.
A true leader is one who is humble enough to admit their mistakes.
John C. Maxwell
* To hear the episode highlighted in the piece above, just click the link below.