Kevin Ervin on Leaders, Learning, and Listening

Kevin Ervin

Sitting down in my third week as Executive Director of Change for Kids, I reflect. This period of time has been a whirlwind of handshakes, agreements, decision watching and decision making, consultations, smiles, questions and answers, head nods and a whole heap of listening. I have, in this time, relearned the cliche alliteration that Learning Leaders Listen. I would even dare to take it one step deeper: servant leaders listen.

My career has spanned work with tens of thousands of children and hundreds of staff, and I have never been a better leader than when I was genuinely listening - not listening to answer, nor to respond. Just listening. Coming into a meeting, a coffee break, an annual appeal prep, or even the myriad of interactions before your annual gala all look the same: enter with a heart of service and an ear for listening. Amazingly still, these principles transcend position or age!

The young elementary school junior mediator is taught to listen first to both parties and then respond. The high school athletics star is encouraged to listen to his teammates and learn the pulse of the team. The school teacher is never greater than when she gets down to the level of her students and listens with interest. Deeper still, in the oldest of ages, the grandparent who spent years as the CEO of a mega corporation, spends her time listening to her grandchildren and learning from their inquisitive minds. Each of these people is a leader. Listening to change the world. Regardless of age or position, serving others through listening is leadership. Full stop.

The amazing thing about the world in which we currently live is that there are so many opportunities to listen, to serve, to be great. At Change for Kids, we’ve found the secret sauce to school improvement, literacy efficacy, education reform, and even mundane things like wearing white after Labor Day, or how to not miss your stop on any NYC subway train when the line decides to go express - listen. To improve schools, we listen to the principals, teachers, parents and pupils. To help fill in word gaps in elementary school learners’ vocabularies, students listen to volunteers from the corporate world and the community reading books aloud to them. To reform education, districts will listen to those pounding the pavement of equity and those on the front line of education. To decide whether to wear white after Labor Day, we listen to our heart (though I would advise against it); and to not miss your stop, listen to the conductor.

But, don’t just take my word for it, listen to Martin:

“Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A sou.l generated by love.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.