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7 Questions with David Arrell
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7 Questions with David Arrell
Name: David Arrell
Current title: Director of Education/Superintendent
Current organisation: Grove City Christian School
I have served in Christian schooling for over 35 years in four states in three types of schools. All of them are traditional schools but their governance and structure differed. I have served in church-based schools, independent schools, and in a Christian school system. I have also co-created a ministry preparation pathway enabling students to learn through mentorships which resulted in college credit.
In addition to my work here at GCCS, I serve as an Accreditation Commissioner as well as on accreditation teams.
My wife and I have been married for over 31 years and we have two adult children. I have degrees from Lancaster Bible College and Johns Hopkins University.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader in the education sector?
Change. It is often difficult to keep up with the context or culture from which our students emerge as they enter a classroom. Many students do not have a stable support system at home thus limiting their ability to focus on learning. Other students are so immersed in the popular culture that connections with adults and/or the course content remain distant.
Also, it is challenging to evaluate new ideas, products, technologies, and strategies and implement only the ones that will work in your context.
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My day begins with prayer, Bible reading and reflection. Once at school I check email but only for emergency situations followed by checking in with my key leaders. I spend a portion of my day in reflection and planning. It is more important to postpone or reject new ideas so that we can focus on accomplishing our mission according to our plan. I try to save routine-type activities and tasks (email) for the afternoon hours. I am accustomed to long hours as a younger man but my effectiveness diminishes now after about nine hours.
I am more keenly aware of the need for rest, exercise, and activities that require my full attention and creativity. I model trains, more specifically city streetcars and their operational environment.
The evening meal is a family highlight, rich with laughter.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I need to be more intentional about building the leaders around me. The next response provides more detail on this topic.
4. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. I had recently reorganized my administrative team (think: getting the right people on the right seats of the bus from Good to Great by Jim Collins). The initial results were good. I knew that something more was needed to keep fueling the team. Wiseman's book provides useful and detailed examples of effective leadership (multipliers) as well as diminishers. I learned that some of my behavior was actually inhibiting my team from doing their best work. I also discovered ways to multiply my team members' strengths. The results have been great and sustained.
5. How do you find and keep great leaders in the education sector?
I don't think the answer differs by industry. Great leaders want to do real work that matters. They want the responsibility and the autonomy to provide creative solutions to new and existing challenges. In education, we have enough of those challenges. What we lack, at times, is the discipline to delegate responsibility and the restraint to permit their autonomous creativity to flourish.
6. What's most important as a leader in the education sector for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
I think empathy is the most important ingredient in developing a culture of well-being. It is vital to know what is going on in the lives of your staff and students but it is more important to care about them as people. I probably should not put this in writing but people are more important than policies.
I believe that it is valuable to talk about well-being as a school community. Our staff and students need to know that it is OK to struggle with anxiety and depression. We want to remove the stigma so that more people will seek out the help they need. The school community also needs to know about successful strategies that others have employed to achieve and maintain their well-being.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader in the education sector so far?
I derive great satisfaction when I see my people take a risk to meet a need, whether it is for one person or for the whole school community. There are many examples at our school. We value the story of the risk-taking penguin. I would say the transformation of two key leaders who adapted to their new roles, their newly found freedom and autonomy. Each of them has been transformed as leaders and as people. It is gratifying to see them enjoying their success.