Control + Alt + Delete: Rebooting School Leadership

If you were a student or professional in the first decade of the new millennium, you would quite likely have used a Windows PC to perform computer related activities. From my personal experience, there were numerous times as I worked on a particular piece of work on my computer where it predictably decided to stop working. This computer freeze would arrive from nowhere and with little warning. I would be typing a new sentence beginning with “The” and it just crashed after I typed “Th.” Initially I would panic, and then I would resort to the reboot function, Control + Alt + Delete. For me, this was a lifesaver as it allowed my tired computer to reboot and start working again.

These last weeks have marked my first weeks as a Middle School principal and I am already relishing the opportunity to lead my team but also be an inspiration for the members of my school community. I aspire to be a difference-maker and to co-create a learning community in which everyone finds success. In my vision, this success is not limited to academics, but also encompasses personal, professional, social, and mental successes. As I engaged with members of my team on numerous school projects, ideas, and innovations this week, I found myself wondering about the challenge of prioritizing to avoid overworking our school system. Akin to the challenges facing my Windows PC in the 2000s, too many projects can inevitably grind staff and students to a halt requiring an emergency reboot.

With the pandemic in the rear-view mirror for some educators and in the windscreen for me personally, the big challenge was finding the balance. What projects should be kept? What projects should be changed? What projects should be stopped? Even though I am a firm believer in the collaborative advantage, I also fervently defend the privilege of the leader to think in isolation of the team to align actions with his/her vision. In concord with this thinking, I regularly venture into thought land and envision the preferred future for my community. In the midst of my thinking about potential overload and the toll on mental wellness of staff and myself, I noticed a parallel with the functions on the PC. I remembered how the PC reacted when the three keys were pushed all at once and wondered about the life lessons for me as a new leader that were sagely packaged in these three buttons. Every Windows PC has three buttons at the bottom of the screen that effectuates a reboot. These buttons are the Control button, the Alt button, and the Delete button. As I considered these buttons separately, I contemplated which of our school activities I needed to “control,” which ones I needed an “alternative” for, and which ones needed to be “deleted?” As a leader operating within a system, it is critical that as we implement change in a way that the process is managed with numerous calibration-based activities to ensure that the system works smoothly. In my view, the Control + Alt + Delete metaphor provides a metric to perform organisational self-study.

Using the Control Function

The control function in this case is dissimilar to the standard fallacy of failed leaderships, where the leader micro-manages and seeks to be the champion through charisma or dogma. For me, controlled means to evaluate the project’s effectiveness and consider how it can be improved. My proposal is that leaders use the control function in a collaborative manner to ask the question of school activities. In this way, the question focuses on what projects are providing some value but need to be “controlled.” Projects that need to be controlled would be providing discernible value but upon analysis have the potential for greater impact. Does it need additional resources? Would the personnel benefit from upskilling? Would additional budget allocation make a difference? Would communication increase impact? The control function when pressed, after an organisational self-study, initiates a series of actionable steps that brings the project under control: control in the sense that it is guided towards the goal that it was intended to achieve.

Using the Alt Function

The Alt function is one of the most underused functions on the PC. Apart from rebooting, most users simply ignore this button. Similarly, when evaluating projects, it is at times challenging to finally decide to choose an alternative approach. There might be vested interests, sometimes a commitment of resources, or plain obstinacy. Yet, the Alt function is the opportunity for leaders to consider whether to choose an alternative path. This may arise in the decisions around software, program type, or personnel. If the original goal of the project is still a part of the preferred future, then do not hesitate to press the Alt button, thus seeking better alternatives. Questions to consider include: What is a better alternative to what we currently have? Is there anyone not in our organization who would have the expertise to accomplish this goal?

Using the Delete Function

Of all the buttons, the one that carries the greatest risk and thus fills leaders with trepidation is the “delete” button. Pressing delete demands a number of checks to ensure that this decision is exactly what is needed. For many leaders, perhaps the hardest decision is to stop a project when it is not working. Many, especially if it was initiated by them, are unwilling to accept the ineffectiveness of a project and are willing to continue despite obvious flaws. Yet, this particular acknowledgment is an essential attribute of an effective leader or leadership team. Some projects just need to stop, just as much as an errant letter in your writing needs to go.

As I convene meeting after meeting with members of my team, I find myself wondering how I will know which projects I need to Control, Alt, or Delete. I ruminate on whether this unsureness is in the province of the new leader or is it normal? I hope I find out in time before I am forced to confront them all at once and press Control + Alt + Delete to affect a reboot.

Megel Barker is the Middle School Principal at ABA Oman International School and a trustee of The Values and Visions Foundation

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By Comments off October 2, 2021