The Color Purple

Yesterday, my friend Beth, the fantastic leader of Leadership High School, reminded me of the official standards that define the work of good principals in California. Like all documents of this type, the standards have a long and officious name and an even worse acronym: the California Professional Standards for Education Leaders (CPSEL). Realizing I hadn’t looked at these standards in forever, I dutifully printed out a fresh copy and reread them through the lens of Everyday Leadership. 

Here’s what I found: if you cut through the jargon, the over-complication of ideas, and the school-specific language, the standards for school leaders present a framework for leadership that is universal. Here’s how I boil it down:

  • Lead from the heart. 
  • Make sure everyone is on the same page. 
  • Rely on data and best practices, not just hunches. 
  • Keep learning and growing and help others do the same.
  • Build an environment and culture that put people first. 
  • Safety, safety, safety.
  • Always seek multiple perspectives. 
  • Don’t forget your overall purpose and values. 
  • Remember that you are part of a larger ecosystem, and your success is connected to the success and wellbeing of everyone.

When I first started dreaming about Everyday Leadership, I had extraordinary teachers and school leaders in my mind’s eye. I drew upon their values, characteristics, and skills to frame and guide my thinking. To me, there is no better model of everyday leadership than what great teachers do. When you walk into a master teacher’s classroom, you feel the overall sense of purpose in the room.  Each person knows what is expected of them and what they are striving to achieve. The mutual support and connection is almost tangible, and so is the appreciation of difference – the variety of strengths, areas for growth, and needs in the room. The best teachers create the conditions and develop the structures to empower each individual. They recognize that their success depends upon the degree to which each student feels seen, valued, and part of a better future.

This week I’ve had the chance to connect with people who are working to support San Francisco’s public school students on many levels: teachers, school leaders, the superintendent, school board members, and community members who are dedicated to the success of public education. It’s clear that, each in our own way, we are pulling for the success of each other. 

I have seen the very best examples of leadership this week –  people striving to do what’s right, trying to make progress in a time of incredible uncertainty, and meeting challenges with creativity and determination. We care about the young people of our city, and we devote our time and energy to their collective and individual success. 

On Saturday, San Francisco regressed into California’s most restrictive purple tier of COVID-19 risk, meaning coronavirus transmission is widespread and new restrictions will be imposed to slow down the virus’ spread. Although this development had been expected for more than a week, it really hit me as I contemplated more months locked in our individual homes and connecting solely through Zoom. I miss seeing my family and friends in person. I miss hugs. I miss spontaneous encounters in grocery store lines. I miss my Pilates studio, The Hivery, thumbing through books at Folio Books. But mostly, I miss the feeling of being at Gateway. I miss the leadership I get to witness each day from students and staff alike. I miss the joy and laughter. I miss experiencing a community that has been brought together with an eye on the future and with people from every walk of life. 

We all miss so much about our lives and communities that have been put on hold these many months. But this week reminded me that good work and progress continue. It reminded me of the power of positive leadership. It gave me hope.


  1. You have upgraded the standards! I also think that great leaders have a stance of what they would go to the wall for. It comes from the purpose, values and leading from the heart, but I think that there is a danger when someone’s stance is not foundational. We want to make sure that if folks can’t be on the same page, they can find a better school or leave the work. In addition, I recently used the ecosystem metaphor with my staff. Great minds!

Leave a Reply