Asec. Lorna Dig-Diño: The Continuing Challenge to Lead
For Asec. Lorna Dig-Diño, her love for teaching came amidst a long period of discernment. As a Secondary Education major specializing in Social Science at the Philippine Normal College in Manila, Diño often found herself taking her father’s suggestions on schooling and work. She recalled how her father quit his job to become a barangay captain, even though it meant endangering the family income, in order to be of service to his community. In one of the leadership workshops she had at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), she realized how much influence her father has on her and shares, “the good thing about me is that when I’m already doing something, I set my mind to it.” But still, teaching came to her life as a matter of convenience.
After college, Diño returned to Sorsogon and landed a teaching job at the Sorsogon College for Arts and Trade. Diño recalls, “I got by, though I didn’t have a life,” and though she felt productive, she chose to end her stay when, after three years, she was made to teach Physical Education classes despite her lack of training in that field. It was incidental that her sister had to undergo a medical operation in Manila, and recognizing it as an opportunity, Diño opted to try a different career path in the city, finding employment as a researcher. However, she remained puzzled: “It was at that point when I truly questioned my relevance. At my [research] job, I spent all of my time alone… But in the classroom, I was able to see many new faces and give hope to young people. When I realized this, I finally knew that I loved teaching.” After three months, Diño resigned and returned to teaching in December 1982. She became a college instructor in the Technological Institute of the Philippines, and then a teacher in a refugee camp in Morong, Bataan. From 1986, Diño held various teaching positions, including Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in Annunciation College, Sorsogon.
Experiencing the Divide
Diño joined the Department of Education (DepEd) in October 1997. She had no intention of joining the public school system but reconsidered when she was officially invited by no less than Sorsogon’s Schools Division Superintendent. Following her acceptance, Diño was assigned as teacher-in-charge in a far-flung barangay in Juban in January of 1998. Visiting the place for the first time, she was in awe seeing a place unkept with tall grass everywhere, only four small school buildings with no proper fence around them, a single tree and gumamela plant, and a makeshift toilet fifteen meters away. The school also had no academic performance records of any kind, except for permanent student records. Diño was also alarmed by how the threat of security had affected the community: “The news of NPA (New People’s Army)1 rebels in the area scared [the people]; the whole community was bleak… There were 198 enrolled students; 56 were in first year, but only 14 were in fourth year. Many dropped out and ended up being recruited by the NPA.”
Diño was saddened; but instead of getting discouraged, she saw opportunities. “I started influencing my fellow school leaders on how to run their schools,” shares Diño. She ran in-service trainings for teachers and trained cluster personnel on how to observe classes and empower teachers. Diño recognized then that her role as a leader within the DepEd was to ensure that her area’s schools had the best facilities, teachers and instructional materials possible. Diño stayed in Juban until June 2003.
Addressing the Educational Divide as a Director
From 2003 until early 2007, Diño was in-charge of the operations of all elementary and secondary schools. She was convinced that she had been effective as a leader, until she found herself struggling with people who, as a practice, always looked to her for all the answers and came back to her with all sorts of questions, “down to ‘what color of paint should [be] used.’ She admitted being guilty of perpetuating this kind of culture back then, as she would come to meetings ready with her own ideas and plans. She adds, “akala ko democratic leader po ako, na na-engage ko talaga,” and no matter how much she promoted innovation in the workplace, the standard response was, ‘It’s up to you, Ma’am. What do you want? Susunod na lang kami.’ At that point, Diño realized that she had more challenges to face and thought that her management and leadership style had to quickly progress.
Having seen the poor education performance figures of the province of Sorsogon, Diño held a Provincial Education Summit in July 2006 where she gathered all of Sorsogon’s provincial and municipal government officials, Division Office personnel, and district supervisors. Diño notes how she addressed the audience: “I showed them the data and posed the question ‘ano’ng gagawin ninyo?’ and she noticed how they were deeply affected learning about the figures and comparing their municipality’s data with others’. Diño thought that her new approach worked, and as officials on a province-wide scale began to initiate education-related projects, Diño did the same with an audience of barangay captains, presidents of Parent-Teacher Associations, school heads and each municipality’s respective mayors, education committee chairpersons and district supervisors.
Leadership in a New Light
Diño saw her leadership in a new light and decided then that her vision of better quality basic education in Sorsogon was only to be achieved through making her Division more engaged in true multi-stakeholder processes. She realized that her previous efforts lacked the characteristics of transformational leadership and added:
Despite the challenges of having to deal with a culture where people are used to being instructed what to do, Diño began to assert among her colleagues that, though she is the group’s leader, they should not look to her as the “think tank” for every bit of decision needed to be made. In one instance, she recalls that at the school she was assigned, she gathered the ideas of her colleagues on how they want the school grounds to look like. In her words, “I was not the only one thinking,” and she said it made her life easier as a leader. As changes began to take shape, Diño also began to believe that being an indispensable leader does not do true service to the people. She saw value in institutionalizing systems and empowering others to become leaders so that the people would have more confidence in themselves and “there wouldn’t be questions like ‘ma’am, kaya ba natin lahat ng ito?” She said, “ang maganda, ‘pag iniwan mo sila, you will not create a vacuum,” Furthermore, she feels assured that in her absence, the people, by their own initiative, will continue to do and dream because they feel as much ownership of the plans and the mission having been engaged in decision-making from the very beginning.
The Continuing Challenge and Joy of Leadership
Diño continues to challenge herself in engaging the people as she continues to work for better quality basic education in Sorsogon. Continuity becomes an issue in her works of leadership today at DepEd. High staff turnover and experiencing firsthand the difficulty of having to face a different set of personnel in a matter of months, Diño learned how to respond to these conditions and has, thus, adopted a more values- and competency-based approach of developing the people around her. Beyond training for office duty and procedures, Diño gives much attention and priority to developing skills and forming good behavior that will make them better and more effective professionals in any work environment.
As a leadership principle, Diño also makes sure to always bring and foster kasanggayahan in the workplace. Kasanggayahan is a Sorsoganon word that translates to the combined concepts of peace and prosperity which, she believes, allows “people [to] work on serious stuff in a very light-hearted manner.” She recognizes that sustaining that kind of environment lies on the capabilities and the heart of the leader, and so, day by day, Diño dedicates herself to being a ray of sunshine in the workplace. She works hard to bring her people forward by providing a safe and conducive space to dream and imagine a better future for themselves, especially the younger generations. “Iyong excitement ko na makita nila iyong [kanilang] preferred future – doon ako excited na excited,” shares Diño. It brings her endless joy to see a vision become so compelling, it resonates among the entire community and words are no longer necessary to inspire others to join in the effort of making that vision a reality.
1 The New People’s Army (NPA) is a Maoist group formed in 1969 with the aim of overthrowing the Philippine government through protracted guerilla warfare. It is the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
2 Read more about the Bridging Leadership Workshop for Educators of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi here.