When the 2010 mining disaster occurred in Chili I was mesmerized so I was thrilled to read Hector Tobar’s new book, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free”.     

For those of you who don’t remember this international story 33 men were stuck in a mine after it collapsed for two months, the longest in recorded history. Reading the book I was reminded of the news footage of their rescue and how overwhelmed I was with feelings of joy, hope, and a belief that the good guys do win.  As I revisited this drama as the book unfolded I thought of the many lessons we can take away from this event that may just make us stronger leaders.

Lesson 1:  Never Give Up

While the miners had their moments over the course of two months underground they never gave up. They all believed they would survive.  Staying the course and believing in the work you are doing can be a terrifically daunting task when you are faced with overwhelmed teachers, disgruntled parents, and students that make poor choices.  The mark of a good leader is one who never gives up, who perseveres, even in the toughest of times.

Lesson 2:  The Right Tools Matter

From the drill that created the shaft to the capsule that eventually pulled the miners out, the tools made the difference.  The tools had to be precise and each had a specific function to perform that aided in the overall success of the rescue mission.  Remember your tools and use them appropriately as you try to change your school. The tools are the Blueprint Processes (Mooney & Mausbach, 2008); the data consult, the school improvement and professional development plan, walkthroughs, and differentiated supervision skills.  All of these tools working together are critical to your successful mission– improved teaching and learning.

Lesson 3: When Making a Big Change, Be Prepared

The rescue attempt started long before the men were put in the capsule.  Attention was paid to many important details such as their diet and protective clothing.  Once out of the capsule the team on the ground made sure medical services were available to meet immediate and long term needs (the miners received 6 months of psychological counseling).  As you prepare to implement major changes in your school you have to be cognizant of what your staff need prior to and during the change.  Fullan’s work on change provides a great roadmap.

Lesson 4:  Surround Yourself with a Highly Qualified Team

It took the work of many, highly skilled, highly qualified individuals to get the miners to safety. I found it fascinating that not one person was the face of the rescue efforts, but many faces.  Complex work requires a team of highly committed individuals.  Surround yourself with the best team you can and empower them to help you move your school forward.  You cannot do it alone.

 Lesson 5:  Hope Helps

Dr. Doug Fisher likes to say, “Hope is not a plan.” He is right, but hope can move normal people to do great things. The definition of hope is the desire with expectation of obtainment, or to expect with confidence.  Hope leads us to belief.  The miners and their rescuers believed they would be successful. They had hope.  The absence of hope leads to despair and despair to lack of action.  We have to have hope that we will make a difference in the lives of the students in our care.  As tough as some days can be in this work, do not lose hope.

KTrainRescuing miners or rescuing children– they both require great leaders.  What do you think?