Deborah Gist, Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary & Secondary Education and OU Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education alum, began her career as an elementary teacher, rising through the ranks until she was named State Superintendent of Education in the District of Columbia in 2007. As the first state superintendent in the District, she transitioned all state-level education functions to the newly formed Office of the State Superintendent of education and put into effect the accountability systems of the federal No Child Left Behind education law.  She was featured in Time Magazine’s 2010 Time 100, a list of 100 people Time sees as “the World’s Most influential People”.  Gist was honored with the Award of Distinction at the 2011 Celebration of Education in Oklahoma where she reminisced about her time at OU and how well prepared she was to enter the classroom. She especially attributes her experiences at the Institute for Child Development as part of the foundation for her success. “The coursework, mentoring, hands on experience, the feedback, the collegiality, everything about it now looking back was incredible.”

Now, Gist is frequently asked to describe her leadership style and responds “elementary leadership”, a phrase she came up with.  The phrase is rooted in her teaching experience in elementary education and also stems from her time at the Institute for Child Development at OU. During her Celebration of Education acceptance speech Gist listed the top 10 things she learned about leadership from the Institute of Child Development:

  1.  No biting. When working with a 2 year old, time must be spent talking about biting. How it’s not nice and that it hurts and as adults we too often tend to bite one another. We need to use words and use them productively to solve problems without hurting each other.
  2. Believe everyone has unique gifts and can succeed. At the Institute for Child Development, teachers spent a lot of time talking about individual students and focused on their capabilities and what they were learning, not what they didn’t know. We need to believe that everyone wants and needs to be successful.
  3. Plan, know the expected result, and get feedback. At the Institute of Child Development they knew everything they were trying to accomplish with the lesson, the unit of study which was carefully thought down from the props to the make believe area to the snack to the story at circle time and the materials for the artwork. But more importantly, the student teachers received feedback all along the way. Our leadership is most effective when we have a clear plan. We need clarity about what it is we set out to accomplish and who will be responsible for what and how we will provide feedback to one another and our team.
  4.  Have fun. Children relish life, they can create a good time out of anything from a bubble to a puddle and it is so important for us to have a good time. Our work is very, very serious, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find joy in our work and in what we do and enjoy one another to accomplish and who will be responsible for what and how we will provide feedback to one another and our team.
  5.  Nurture the whole person. Everyone we work with from our allies to our adversaries has a complicated and whole self with hopes and wants and dreams with special talents and intellectual backgrounds with quirky characteristics and we need to get to know them. Relationships matter and showing that you appreciate your colleagues whole self will go a long way to getting the work done.
  6.  Run. We know that children have boundless energy. As we go through our day we should strive to have that kind of spirit and have a sense of urgency about our work.
  7.  Share. This one speaks for itself.
  8. Take a risk. Go on, give it a try, jump, swing higher, try the star fruit, try on that top hat, that cape, see how it feels. Touch that snake skin, put another block on top, see if it will stay up. As adults we have to be able to continue to put ourselves in experiences that might make us uncomfortable. Only then will we learn, only then will we grow, only then will we truly innovate and accomplish great things. It’s OK to be scared, but we have to jump anyway.
  9.  Celebrate together. We are very busy in our everyday lives but we need to make time to step back, reflect and to celebrate together
  10.  Get back up again. And with that Gist led the audience in singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider, complete with hand motions, a children’s song about dusting yourself off and getting back up again.



Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar