What Would You Like To Know?

by Jeff Ronneberg, MASA President and Superintendent, Spring Lake Park Schools

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Jeff Ronneberg
MASA President and Superintendent
Spring Lake Park Schools

Welcome to the new school year. It’s a great time of year, full of optimism and possibility. It’s a time of excitement as we work with staff throughout our systems to implement innovations and improvements we have designed and worked so hard to build a commitment for. As leaders, we do our best to make sure that our vision is clear, our staff and systems are aligned, that everything is in place to reach new heights.

An important aspect of leadership is simply seeing the system, recognizing opportunities, needs, and emerging influences. Knowing what is happening and what is possible—and having a notion about how to bridge the gap between the two—is the crux of leading our schools forward. Leaders are always forecasting, predicting everything from student enrollments and budgets to the weather. Yet, it is interesting that school leaders, who are experts who bring so much expertise to their work, may better serve their systems by asking the right questions, seeking and hearing the expertise of those they work with, rather then providing answers.

In December, 2013, FastCompany’s Co.Design featured an article by Warren Berger entitled, “Forget The Mission Statement. What’s Your Mission Question?” (www.fastcodesign.com/1672137/forget-the-mission-statement-whats-your-mission-question). In the article, Berger asserts that asking repeatedly the questions about why we exist, what we want to do, and how we might do it better, will ultimately provide a keen focus for the mission of the organization. In the end, it’s about focusing on what we want to create rather than what we want to rid ourselves of.

Berger went on to publish his book, A More Beautiful Question (Bloomsbury, 2014), in which he explores in fine detail the role inquiry plays in our work. He suggests that we avoid inquiry for a number of reasons, including a cultural predisposition to look toward leaders for answers, not questions, and a concern that if we do find the right questions, there may not be good answers. That brings up significant questions in itself, questions that we may be afraid of as leaders: will people follow a leader who questions? Does continuous inquiry make a leader seem “uncertain?” As you begin this new school year, think about your own leadership practice and ask yourself how you can ask the best questions, rather than the right answer, that will lead to creation and innovation.

I am honored to be your MASA president this year, and I can tell you that we are doing our best to ask the right questions to propel your association forward in its ability to serve and support our members. Many of you have responded to MASA’s annual member survey and we will soon be sharing those results with you. We will use the “why,” the “what if,” and the “how” to make MASA an ever-better source for successful leadership support. I wish you all a successful, creative, and innovative school year!

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