Leadership Thoughts

ED630: Advanced Educational Leadership
Dr. Dennis Stanek
Sara R. Beauchamp
As my five year old son entered school this fall, I was apprehensive.  He has a voracious curiosity and thirst for learning, yet somehow I knew he would not enjoy the traditional school setting.  His favorite thing to do is to build.  Creating new things from seemingly random objects is a task he can do for hours.  We have a recycle art box in our dining room.  Empty juice, butter, sour cream and yogurt containers sit waiting to be turned into doll house hot tubs, rocket boosters and robot feet. Cake mix, macaroni, and cereal boxes become sky scrapers, foundations and homes for Polly Pockets.  Using a glue gun and his imagination, he creates worlds and new inventions. Through play he is developing skills that will allow him to take the linear, organizational, sequential skills learned through traditional academia and combine them with the ability to see the big picture.  It has been no secret in the world of education that children learn best through play.  It is through play that we can engage them in the learning process.  It is our hook. In Toy Box Leadership, Ron Hunter, Jr.  and Michael E. Waddell take that concept one step further and take a look at how the seemingly simple toys of our childhood teach lessons that extend beyond play.  They guide us through the chapters allowing us to revisit the toys that allowed us the freedom to be creative, to problem solve, and build dreams.
Many of the concepts discussed in this book have always been core driving principles in my life.  The idea of building relationships, like in the LEGO chapter is one that is most recognizable through my work with the Upper Peninsula Writing Project.  It is a core belief of the National Writing Project that in order to teach writing in your classroom, you must first develop a writing community.  This sense of community allows writers to feel safe, secure and willing to open up.  Writing is a very personal exercise and it takes time to develop the trust to share it with others.  Good writers understand that it is only through sharing, collaboration and feedback that they can become better writers.  But first it starts with relationships, connections.  Three components of the LEGO concept that gave me a “light bulb” moment were the analogies of the misplaced, forced, isolated and unorganized bricks.  When building communities, it is important that everyone is where they need to be.  That they want to participate and that they feel needed.  Organization of the people you have in your company (or school) is critical to the big picture. Waddell suggest that we all understand that a single out of place brick can ruin an entire castle.  Leaders have to pay attention to these concepts.
Change does not just happen.  It takes leaders with vision.  Vision is the foundation for all change, all innovation.  The analogy of the Slinky Dog is brilliant.  People with vision are crucial to education.  It is so important in our field because things are always changing, moving, and growing.  The needs of our children are changing, now, more than any other time in the history of education.  If we don’t have leaders with vision, we will not grow as an institution.  If your principal or superintendent believes that it is sufficient to “always do what you have always done”, our schools are in serious danger.  Having a vision does not mean jumping on every bandwagon that comes our way.  It is understanding the core foundations of education and carrying them into the 21st Century to best serve the needs of our children.  It is about us, not about them. For me, the most powerful lesson of the Slinky Dog is that it is a tricky job to pull and be patient.  If you pull too quickly and get too far from the followers, then you are not a leader.  You are just a person out in front all alone.  As with the Slinky Dog if you pull too fast and too far, you will destroy the coils, the connections within the group.  The trick, Hunter says, is to pull and be patient.  Imagine the Slinky Dog for a moment.  Picture the physics of how the toy operates.  When you pull the dog along, the front gets out in front, then the back catches up, propelling the front forward again.  These bursts allow for growth within your organization.
Persistence.  Falling down is not the problem; it is what happens when you are laying on the floor.  Do you lie there and wait for someone to come along?  “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down” is a very recognizable advertising slogan from the 1970′s.  The truth is, they do fall down.  They just don’t stay there.  The power of positive thinking is a wondrous thing.  It enables your mind to think differently, changing your heart rate, your blood pressure and your overall feelings of worth.   Failure is the world’s best way to learn.  This is a good trait to possess if you are in a leadership role.  You will be faced with many challenges and ultimately fail at some of them.  If you are persistent and learn from your failures, you will be able to achieve all you are working towards.
Hunter and Waddell do a delightful job of organizing solid leadership principals in an easy to read format that makes us look at things from a different point of view.  The margins of my book are filled with notes and many key phrases are highlighted.  To me–that is a sign of a good read.  I took away concrete ideas and revisited ones that solidified my current philosophies.  This could easily be a companion book for Fulgrum’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The roots of human behavior are formed at such an early age.  Toys allow us to openly express ourselves in these early stages.  Leaders of every style should pick this book up and keep it close to their desks,  along side some of the very toys discussed in the book, to serve as a reminder to connect with people, be creative, stay true to their beliefs, strive for efficiency, pull, then be patient and get back up after they have fallen.


  1. Great review! Thank You, Michael and I loved writing this book together. People enjoy reminiscing back to their childhood years and realizing the toys provide easy, memorable metaphors for real life leadership lessons. Leaders like you often tell us that the book has stick-ability – meaning that after reading it they can easily tell us at least five of the ten chapters naming the toy and the principle of the toy. We recently found out that Toy Box Leadership is a textbook in a graduate level leadership program in a well-recognized university.

    Thanks again and enjoy those early grade school years with your son. His curiosity will serve him well in his education. Your creativity along with his curiosity makes a great combination.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad the LEGO metaphor stuck with you. If Ron or I can ever help you in any way please let us know.

    Michael E. Waddell

    co-author of Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons From The Toys You Loved A Child

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  5. This is really a good thought of leadership.I like this article its very useful an informative.Thank you for sharing.

  6. An interesting and informative post and Toy Box Leadership sounds a book that could be of great help and benefit to me. Thanks

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