President's Corner                                           Page 42


Sowing the Seeds of Honesty




Some of the many benefits of a professional learning community are the relationships and trust that build over time. These benefits can be extended to our larger communities too, as illustrated by the following story.

A successful businessman was growing old and knew it was time to name a successor to take over the business. Rather than choose one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young executives in his company together and said, “It’s time for me to step down, so I need to choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you.”

The young executives were shocked he was even considering them, but they sat silently as he continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today — one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with the plant you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will base my selection for the next CEO on the plants you bring to me. I will judge the plants you bring, and the grower of one I choose will be the next CEO.”

A year later to the day, the executives returned with their beautifully grown plants — all except one. This executive brought an empty pot, embarrassed at his failure to grow a plant. It was obvious to all the young executives who would not be chosen as their boss’s successor.

Their retiring CEO examined all the plants and then stood at the head of the board table to make his announcement. “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it and bring it back to me today. What you didn’t know is that I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead. It was not possible for them to grow.

“Every one of you, except Jim, has brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you could not make the seed I gave you grow, you all went out and bought another seed. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with nothing in it. Therefore, he is the one I choose to be the new chief executive officer!”

What’s the lesson here for school system leaders? It’s simple: When you plant honesty, you reap trust. We all know how important it is to establish a trusting relationship with our communities, and that trust is always built on honesty. Superintendents don’t intentionally mislead communities, but too often we may be tempted to embellish a story, leave out important details or even develop strategic messages to protect the reputation of our districts. We may learn the hard way that honesty is what our communities want, and we need to believe that is what they deserve.

When we share information with our communities, we must consider our audience and share not only the information we want them to have, but also the information they need to know — the good and the bad.

For example, we hear estimates that four out of five households do not have children in our K-12 school systems, so although residents of the school district may be parents, their day-to-day relationship with schools has diminished. That does not mean they don’t need to know what’s going on in our schools; we continue to rely on their support. By communicating with them, we build their trust.

As we celebrate a new year, let’s also celebrate the communities that support us. And let’s remember the very simple rule that honesty is the best policy, even if it means showing up at a meeting with an empty flowerpot.

Patricia Neudecker is AASA president for 2011-12. E-mail:


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