President's Corner

Putting Yourself on Pause


November marks the beginning of a special time of year. Just as nature enters its season of rest and renewal, we are able to settle down from the hustle and bustle of the beginning of a new school year and turn our focus inward.

I challenge each of you to hit your personal pause button, find a place free from distraction and reflect on the many things for which you can be thankful, and on the areas in your life that may need some renewal or renovation.

Mark BielangMark T. Bielang

If you argue you cannot afford to take time for personal reflection, let me assure you that you cannot afford not to take the time. I agree wholeheartedly with the statement that “who we are is how we lead,” and I look forward to the opportunities in the coming months to delve into my inner self, to celebrate my gifts and to work toward improving my areas of weakness. Only by doing this regularly am I able to ensure my actions as a leader are in harmony with who I am as a person.

Allow me to suggest some questions that might inspire you to reflect:

•  Children: What gifts do I have that help me make good decisions for children? How might I be more in tune with the needs of the children I serve?

•  Change: What have I done to embrace change and to see opportunities in these challenging times? Are there changes I might make in myself to help me be a more effective leader?

•  Connections: Am I truly open to forming new partnerships and new connections that will help me be more effective in my work and personal life? What new people should I invite into my life?

This kind of reflective thinking can lead us to the deeper question: “Who is the self that leads?” Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal, suggests that such reflective questions are the most fundamental questions we can ask ourselves about leadership and leaders.

In his book The Courage to Teach, Palmer writes, “By addressing it openly and honestly, alone and together, we can serve our students more faithfully, enhance our own well-being, make common cause with colleagues and help education bring more light and life to the world.”

All across this country we are engaged in critical public conversations about education reform. These conversations center on appropriating funds, restructuring schools, rewriting curricula and deciding which technology best meets our needs.

While these are critical issues, if we limit our conversations to these issues alone, we miss the deeper questions that are most likely to transform education — questions that get beyond the “what” and “how” and get to the “why” and “who,” the questions that get at purpose, selfhood and the heart of good teaching and leading. These questions, if left unanswered, will keep us from reaching inside ourselves to discover the deeper, more meaningful changes we need to make.

As education leaders, we have the opportunity to make a difference by leading by example, by doing the difficult inner work and encouraging others to do the same. We can pose the deeper questions that get at the deeper issues of student learning.

Effective leadership requires that we know ourselves. To know ourselves, we must take the time to travel inward and bring out the inner wisdom that resides within each of us. Please consider setting time aside to make this important personal journey.

Even if it’s for a just a few short moments, put yourself on pause.

Mark Bielang is AASA president for 2009-10. E-mail: