This past summer I was visiting a friend in Chicago, we had to drive from one place to another and he said, “just follow me”. It was about 30 seconds later that he ran a yellow light and lost me in traffic. I figured he would’ve pulled over and waited for me but as it turns out he was too caught up in a conversation to realize that I was stuck at the light. Eventually he answered my phone call (thank you technology) and came back to find me parked on the side of the road, frustrated and annoyed. The next day as I drove back to Wisconsin I started thinking about the similarities between this situation and education, I found a lot of connections!
I started realizing that being a member of a caravan, whether the leader or follower, was a lot like working in education. We’re all educational leaders in one capacity or another, whether as the leader of a school, division, or classroom…we’re leading the caravan and in some cases we’re following as well. To better understand caravans I needed to think about them in an educational context, while doing that I identified five key parts to successful caravan situations both on the road and in education.
- The Role of the Leader
When I was following my friend he had the implicit responsibility to make sure that I arrived at our destination. He was supposed to lead the way and guide me to the final goal. While the destination in this story wasn’t very important, we often find ourselves as leaders in education pursuing lofty and extremely important (for our students) goals.
The leader of the caravan has the job of ensuring that everyone makes it to their goal! Thinking back to family caravan trips as a kid, I’m sure there are a few times when my parents would’ve preferred if one or two of the other families didn’t make it to the final destination but in education it doesn’t work that way! Our students, teachers, or other community members are trusting us as the leaders of the pack to get them ALL to the final destination.
- The Route
As the leader of the caravan you have the responsibility for getting the entire group to the desired destination. The route you choose, is often times up to you. There are a few factors to consider when choosing your route but there are no overarching rules that apply here. Perhaps you or the group want to arrive as soon as possible, sometimes the safest route may be a little slower and but more desired. You also have to consider avoiding road construction or other detours, potential headaches are often bypassed intentionally.
In education we work together, we collaborate to develop the best “route” to get our kids to the ultimate learning goals. Sometimes we collaborate with other leaders in the journey and other times we work with everyone involved in the process. Ideally we are working together to choose a path from the start and when we hit those obstacles along the way we come back together to make a collaborative decision about the best detour to take. In either event, it is crucial that everyone has a solid understanding of what the destination will be and as much information about the route as possible.
It is often said that the route isn’t important, that it is the destination that matters. While this may be true as a generalized statement, when it comes to education the learning process is extremely important. Choose your route carefully, collaborate with your colleagues, and work to lay the best path for those you’re leading.
- The Speed
Ever been in a caravan with a leader who likes to push the speed limit to the max? How about someone who prefers to drive five miles below the speed limit? It’s the “Goldilocks” paradox, too fast and too slow are no good, as leaders we have to be “just right” when it comes to pacing. The larger the group the harder to find that sweet spot but it becomes even more essential with large groups.
- Maneuvering Obstacles
When I got left behind at a stop light this summer I ended up lost because my leader wasn’t aware of the obstacle at hand. His running of a yellow light forced me to decide, run a red or stop and wait. As leaders in a school, whether leading students or teachers we have to be aware of the obstacles we face. Do we rush the end of a lesson because the bell is going to ring and risk leaving someone stuck behind? If we’re leading a school wide initiative, do we push on even if everyone isn’t on board just so we can implement the plan by a certain deadline? How do we advance the whole group while also maneuvering through the wild obstacle course that is a school year?
One thing that is important to consider is that we (both leaders and followers) move at different speeds and encounter different obstacles in our learning. Whether a disruptive home life, learning challenges, or a desire to move quickly through material, we’re all faced with different situations. As the leader of the pack it’s important to keep this in mind. Sometimes it’s okay if someone trails the group, as long as they remain in sight and can continue down the path at their own pace. These people may need extra support. That might take the form of Student Support Services, language acquisition assistance, or one-on-one support. No matter what the obstacle there is surely a path to be followed. Sometimes the trouble is just working to find that path and other times the challenge is overcoming multiple obstacles simultaneously. Just as I mentioned when discussing the route, in education we work together as teams to help everyone succeed…especially those with multiple challenges or obstacles to arriving at the destination.
- Watch Your Rear-View Mirror
As I sat waiting for my friend to come back and find me this summer I couldn’t fathom that he had just continued on and not noticed I wasn’t behind him. However, as I mentioned earlier, he was too caught up in conversation to look in his mirror to check on me. As the leader of the caravan it is your job to make sure everyone is still behind you. On the road this means checking your mirrors regularly and verifying everyone’s presence. Perhaps you even have a system set up so that everyone is responsible for the car behind them, thus creating a chain of accountability. No matter the plan, it is important that everyone travels together and ends up at the same destination.
In a leadership context a rear-view mirror isn’t the literal tool for checking on your followers but the fact remains that we must be sure that those we are leading stay with the group. With a group of teachers moving toward an initiative you might form cohorts so that everyone is accountable to their small group. Similarly in a classroom, small groups are often used to help students move forward with their learning collaboratively. It is also possible for the leader to track their followers’ progress individually, a strategy perhaps more fit for smaller groups. Whether by taking sole responsibility or sharing the task of monitoring the group, leaders must constantly check with their followers to ensure that everyone continues moving toward the final destination.
The Road Ahead
This past summer I was left behind and felt lost. I’ve been in the same place while working in school, both as a student and an educator. During my two hour drive back to Wisconsin the similarities between these two scenarios really came clear for me. Whether the leader or the follower, it is important to understand the dynamics of the caravan and the important similarities to the classroom and education.
As educational leaders we’re all leading one caravan or another, and for many of us we’re busy leading multiple different caravans with different destinations. Continuous movement forward is the main goal as we drive on toward the ultimate target. However, we must keep in mind that we’re in this together…some people drive faster or slower, have less capable cars, or are just learning to drive. No matter who is following it is imperative that we continue to consider everyone who is included in our caravan.
Drive on 🙂