21 Irrefutable Laws of Literacy Leadership #3: The Law of Process

“Leadership develops daily, not in a day” (21).

 This sand “castle,” built at Patoka Lake last summer during a summer day trip with the  children is a good example of the law of process. The page on the left was a dragon in      the making and the facing page reads “Once upon a time.” This was made entirely by hand with details carved out by a small sharp stick I had found in the beach sand (keeping it from jabbing another beachcomber).

This “book” started as a pile of sand. Unremarkable. But, as the idea developed, this pile of sand began to take shape over the course of the afternoon, I was delighted when children would walk by, stop, take in the project underway, and exclaim, “Look, Mommy! It’s a book! It’s a book!” Even later in the day, as the sun prepared to go down, it was fun to watch from a distance the people who would stop, look, and point.

Books and stories. . .they just seem to resonate with people, in whatever form they take. We could easily build a story from what is here. We have all of the elements. . .time, place, and an invitation to consider that moment known to storytellers and their audiences around the world: Once upon a time.

We return to John C. Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, to consider the third law, The Law of Process. This is the third installment in this 21 week consideration of Maxwell’s work and how it might lend to our deeper understanding of literacy leadership.

So, once upon a time, I wanted to think about literacy leadership. And I committed to discussing this topic for 21 weeks. And this brings us back to Maxwell’s introduction, “Leadership Develops Daily, Not in a Day.”

ONCE you have started to consider yourself a literacy leader, it’s time to put together your ideas and see what is there.

UPON these beliefs you must be most confident. You own your experiences–the utter failures and the great successes.

A literacy leader is born over the course of these experiences and revels in the gift of reflection.

TIME makes a literacy leader. Not tricks. Not the trade. Not a trial period or a notion.

So, if literacy leadership is a process–step by step–being cognizant of the laws and adhering to them by way of practice, then success would be on the other side, yes? Discovered after some time?

Maxwell cites his good friend, Tag Short, who says, “The secret of our success is found in our daily agenda” (23).

Our daily agenda.

This really made me stop and think about my own daily agenda. Where do I see literacy leadership in my daily agenda. What am I doing within the learning community that communicates that a part of my daily agenda is to introduce and promote literacy? A lesson? An invitation? A reminder to adhere to the school’s appointed reading time?

And outside of the learning community? Where do I see my daily agenda of literacy leadership here?  What do others think about my daily agenda? Do others see “literacy leadership” as part of my daily practice and presentation?

These are the questions that I wrestle with on a daily basis. And over time, I have come to believe that literacy leadership–seen through the lens of the third law–is a process.

Practice and Reflection. Repeat.

John C. Maxwell offers a list of facets associated with leadership. I thought it would be good to share those here if only to demonstrate literacy leadership as a process: respect, experience, emotional strength, people skills, discipline, vision, momentum, and timing. This is a list to which we could certainly add our own facets based upon each of those offered by Maxwell. Part of the process must be proposing where we stand–right now.

Okay. For me. . .discipline is probably the biggest of the facets that I must contend with right now. This post was supposed to have been done on Sunday. That was my commitment to the series. And yet, I am typing this up on Monday afternoon. No good reason. Two weeks of adherence that is followed by a postponement of ideas. I am taking my own gold star off of the wall for this, but emotional strength says, keep on with this week’s post. We’re three weeks in and this speaks to momentum.

When I am given a list, I can see what needs attention and focus and which facets compliment the others. Do I get respect because of my experience or is it because of people skills? Is this the right time to declare a vision in the midst of some other items that might need collaborative attention right now? What Maxwell offers by way of this list is a process checklist.

But my absolute favorite part of the Law of Process is found in John C. Maxwell’s Four Phases of Leadership Growth. I’d like to spend some time on these if you have not read the book.

Phase One: I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know:

Maxwell shares here that many young people do not sign up for elective courses in leadership because they do not see themselves as leaders. That leadership is a quality reserved for a few (24).

How many times have I felt this way, myself? With the number of truly gifted and talented writers that I follow at Facebook and Twitter. People with books with their name upon them? Those seemingly naturally born literacy leaders? I remember well driving back to Indiana from the Louisville International Airport with Penny Kittle. Penny, from the passenger seat of my truck, asked when I was going to put my own thoughts into a book. I told her that I had thought that the best material regarding reading and writing was already being done by her and a host of other people I hold in deep regard that I was able to cite like a Who’s Who in the World of Literacy Leadership.

And that’s when Penny got very quiet and looked right at me.

I was looking at the highway in front of us. But I could feel that look.

“That’s very dangerous thinking, Paul,” she said, “to think that your voice doesn’t matter in this conversation.”

I’ll never forget this moment. It was a moment wherein I was living Phase One: I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know.

John C. Maxwell writes, “As long as a person doesn’t know what they don’t know, he doesn’t grow” (24).

Phase Two: I Know What I Don’t Know:

Here, Maxwell cites Benjamin Disraeli who says, “To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step toward knowledge” (25).

This is where I would cite literacy leaders like good friend, Donalyn Miller. I am continually impressed by her ability to pull snippets from research studies and apply them to something we are talking about at that time. Well read in the research regarding reading and writing, Donalyn is an example of knowing what she knows while I am working–as part of a process–to stop being awe-stricken by her ability and to put some of this research into my thinking and sharing box for myself and for those with whom I may have some influence.

I started to think about those students–okay, even peers–who might feel the need to tear down the gifts of another peer because the words they use are “too big,” lamenting (albeit somewhat shortsighted and perhaps a little ironic) that they will “never be as smart as _________” But, this is what Phase Two is all about and how timely that we would consider knowing what we don’t know as part of a process that leads to becoming a literacy leader.

Phase Three: I Grow and Know and It Starts to Show: 

I’ve had colleagues–in my first year of teaching–remind me of my neophyte status, mainly by juxtaposing their experience with my own. The veteran teacher with a number of years of experience can–with a degree of comfort–use the number of years they have been in a building comparatively as leverage, but what happens when that new teacher stays. . .and begins to collect experience. The gap remains the same. Time will never make us equals as time is not a competitive entity (I’m being tongue and cheek here, but take a look at other facets of our lives wherein we have tried to compete with time. As I write this, I am awaiting the delivery people who are bringing a new treadmill to our house).

But as I look back over the past eight years–to interviews, to podcasts, to articles written, to presentations delivered, to PLN’s built and maintained, I am starting to see some growth.

Phase Four: I Simply Go Because of What I Know:

When one gets to phase four, Maxwell writes, “your ability to lead becomes almost automatic. And that is when the payoff is larger than life. But the only way to get there is to obey the Law of Process and pay the price” (27).

The Law of Process is a good one to consider early on in this visitation of the Irrefutable Laws of Leadership and–in turn–the Laws of Literacy Leadership. It’s a good time to look at our daily agenda. Look for those places where literacy leadership presents itself.

Before you know it, a pile of sand becomes a work of art. By way of process. And practice. Carving out the vision to reveal the story that had been inside all along. Before you know it, you’ll have excited on-lookers who will want to share with others what you are working upon.

Next week we will consider THE LAW OF NAVIGATION: Anyone Can Steer the Ship, But it Takes a Leader to Chart the Course.

As a former sailor, I think I will really enjoy this next Law. I may have to dig out my dictionary of nautical terms.











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