The Impact Manifesto

As educators, we’re accustomed to working hard. We see it as our moral duty, the way we do right by our students.

I am convinced that this is a fundamentally flawed approach to our work.

Our students do not need our efforts, our attempts, or our good intentions. They need results. They need us to have an impact.

Understandably, most people think that the way to get results is by expending great effort.

If your goal is to hike from point A to point B, it stands to reason that expending more effort over a longer period of time is the path to success.

But our students can’t wait for us to take a hike. They need us to hop on a rocketship and get to the destination as quickly as possible.

They need us to have an impact.

Impact is Optional

Most of us moved from working more directly with students into leadership roles because we wanted to increase our impact.

Certainly, working directly with students has an important impact, but a big part of the appeal of leadership is the opportunity to have a bigger, if more indirect, impact on the people we serve.

But even more important than getting yourself a leadership job is giving yourself a mandate to have in impact.

My friend Jean doesn’t care that she isn’t the principal, or that some kids aren’t on her caseload. She’s devoted her life to having an impact. She cares only about making a difference. And she does, every day, at a pace that would exhaust an Olympic athlete.

The jobs we hold, our positions as administrators of various kinds, give us the opportunity to have an impact. They give us some authority, a platform, a chance. But they do not guarantee that we will have an impact.

In fact, having an impact is entirely optional.

Many of us go through our entire careers as leaders without ever asking what kind of impact we’re having.

If we don’t want to be that kind of leader—if we want to actually have an impact—we have to start with the right question: How will I have an impact on the people I serve?

Too often, we don’t think enough about our answer to that question.

We believe that simply being a leader will lead to impact. We think that showing up and working hard will create the results we want.

This could not be further from the truth. We have to decide to have an impact, and we have to have a plan for making it happen.

Impact is Elusive

But choosing isn’t enough, either. Most school leaders—to be blunt—don’t have much of an impact. And it’s not for lack of trying, good intentions, or competence.

It’s simply because systems and organizations are geared toward preserving the status quo. Toward preventing you from having an impact.

If we want to truly have an impact, we must constantly ask ourselves, “How, specifically, will I make a difference?”

The answer is going to be different for each of us. No two schools are exactly alike, and no two leaders face exactly the same set of challenges and opportunities. So there is no universal “formula” for having an impact.

But there are universal and teachable principles for increasing that impact.

I don’t know what your specific goals are, or what you are working toward at this exact moment.

But I do know what will increase your impact in that work, and what tends to get in the way of your progress.

I can teach you how to remove those barriers and accelerate your progress in whatever work lies before you. It’s hard work, but as my colleague Dave Burgess says, it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be worth it.

The Rules Have Changed

We can no longer accept a 1-to-1 ratio between our inputs and outputs, between our efforts and the results we achieve.

It is up to us to take advantage of every technology, strategy, and tool that can accelerate our impact.

Last year, at the NAESP convention, I demonstrated how to create shortcuts on your iPhone or iPad (Settings » General » Keyboard » Shortcuts). Type an abbreviation, and it gets expanded into a longer word or phrase. Type “omw” and it gets expanded to “On my way!”

When I demonstrated this feature, an audible gasp went up in the room. A few people actually applauded.

And this is just a little trick that can save keystrokes.

What if we could do the same thing for our overall impact on student learning? What if we could break the fundamental limitation that 1-to-1 thinking places on our leadership?

Decide To Be Impatient

We’re in an era when…

  • showing up
  • working hard, and
  • doing the right things (or “applying best practices”)

is not enough. What today’s challenges demand of us is impatience. Impatience with the status quo.

Impatience with and intolerance for our own limitations.

And the relentless search for more effective and efficient ways of carrying out our work as school leaders.

Are you impatient?

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About the Author

Justin Baeder helps school administrators increase their productivity through the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Learn More »

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