It was late in the morning on Thursday March 2nd and I was participating in a professional development workshop “Beyond Diversity” with my fellow teachers from my school. I was listening to the presenter but I was also continuously checking my email account scrolling up and down as I patiently anticipated the announcement of the 2017 Bush Fellows. The long-awaited email with the heading “Congratulations! You’re a 2017 Bush Fellow” was indeed in my inbox. From that moment on, I knew a new chapter of my leadership life has just begun. A sense of responsibility to achieve, be impactful, and a heightened expectation has also come with the announcement.
The first six months of my fellowship was an opportunity to pose and reflect on my leadership. This is the first time for a long time that I got the opportunity to sit back and reflect on my leadership growth. One of the beauties of being a Bush Fellow is that I’m empowered to authentically think about my leadership growth without much consideration for the project or the idea at hand. Contemplating the story of Archibald Bush and his early days as business man we see that he worked on the superior harbor during the day building docks and going to business school during the night. In a similar story, I have completed all my higher education attending classes in the evening while I worked during the day to get to where I’m today. With the Bush Fellowship, I had the opportunity to focus on developing my leadership in the field of teaching and learning. This is probably what Archibald Bush had in mind when he decided to invest in ideas and the people who drive them and I’m very grateful to be a Bush Fellow.
My first experience as a bush fellow was my trip to Kenya this past summer. During my stay in Kenya, I was able to visit classrooms in a number of schools and I got firsthand observation of active learning process in the Kenyan classrooms. One of the goals of my visit to Kenya was to understand a pattern we have observed with the students in Minnesota classrooms from Kenya; a strong academic performance and positive attitude towards learning. Although my observation was brief and not part of any formal research, it provided a window to some of the strengths of the teacher centered approach that is widely practiced in the Kenyan education system. Another strength that I have observed was that all students are expected to perform at a high level with Regular and direct feedback given to students in their pursuit to quality work. The insights I gained from my visits to the Kenyan classrooms will be very valuable for my work with East African students in our classrooms here in Minnesota.
One of the questions I was asked during the Bush Fellowship interview was “why do you want to pursue a Ph.D. rather than taking other paths to strengthen your leadership and expand your impact?”
I’m not sure how I responded to this question but I have been thinking lately about the choice I made to further my skills and education through the graduate program of curriculum & Instruction at the University of Minnesota. At one point, I feel that I have been too ambitious in undertaking the task of enrolling in a demanding and challenging graduate program. The expectations are very high when it comes to the quality of work, the level of attention, and energy required for classes. But on the other hand, I’m increasingly convinced that there was no better way to use my Bush Fellowship time than to pursue my life passion; understanding more about learning and teaching. Through my program at the University of Minnesota, I was able to build new networks and people who I share a lot in common. The love and passion for learning and the value of knowledge is a common characteristic that is embodied by many of the great colleagues in my program. I have been enjoying the many intellectually stimulating discourse about the key concepts of learning and teaching that serve as the basis for our understanding of knowledge and how he we gain it.
I have been consciously reflecting on my leadership, assessing my strengths and areas of growth. Through this recursive self-reflection process, I have come to realize that I have been stretched thin in meeting the demands of everyone and saying “yes” to every request that comes my way. I have realized that the time we have and the energy we possess is not un-limited and I have to streamline my efforts on few strategically defined areas to be impactful. I have been working to focus my energy on my priorities and to clear my calendar from schedules that did not support my goals. I have learned that the more you focus on fewer endeavors and streamline your energy the more you can achieve. It’s a great journey that will not only redefine my personal and professional priorities but will shape my perspective of leadership and its impact on those we serve!