As I come to the close of year 2 in my current position and the end of my Administration/Ed Leadership program...I reflect on the learning. I often wonder, was there learning?
I will say, that all of the important lessons did not occur from reading a book nor sitting through a lecture. It happened through the experiences and through the relationships. I have been very fortunate that along both of these journeys, I have been able to connect with many diverse leaders. From district Superintendents to classroom leaders, and everything in between. I make it a point to find the learning in EVERY interaction, in EVERY opportunity.
I feel that I have learned a lot, but of course, I am not an official leader, so I am only basing this on my own observations, thoughts, ideas. I can only say that I have followed these in my day to day dealings as the need arises. How will these translate when the rubber hits the road? Time will tell.
So...what are my big takeaways on leadership? Here goes...
1) Relationships are number 1!
It is important to build strong, authentic relationships
built on mutual respect. Be real.
2) Always start with the "why".
Change is easier to swallow when people understand
3) Involve the stakeholders in decisions.
They are the ones most effected. Seek out, listen and
value their input.
4) Leadership is a team effort.
An effective leader works alongside others on the
5) Walk the walk.
If you want the people in your charge to do something,
model that practice...always.
6) Let your actions speak louder than words.
Follow through on what you say.
7) Communication is KEY!
Find multiple ways to communicate and communicate
8) Grow people. Invest in people. Value people.
9) Find your tribe.
Surround yourself with like-minded, supportive people.
10) Never stop learning. Never stop growing. Never stop teaching. Always remember your purpose.
Bonus: It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Now, will my top 10 change if I ever do move into a leadership position? Probably. Just check out #10. We should constantly be evolving.
And sure, this all sounds great as I type it, naive rose colored glasses and all. I know everything changes when you are in the trenches. So, I do not claim to know what the correct formula is, but I do have a place to start...to try...to fail...to correct...to redirect. It is a journey...filled with many more lessons to be learned.
Interesting topic in my Admin class, tonight. We were asked, “which do you feel is most important in education: curriculum, behavior or emotional engagement?” If we had to choose one, where would we put our resources? Luckily, my group agreed before the question was even done being posed. Emotional engagement!! What would you choose and why?
I chose emotional engagement because I see this as the cornerstone on which everything else is built. If a person’s emotional needs are not being met, it is really hard to access everything else. In this, I am not only talking about in the classroom, but on a school site, at the district level...but most importantly in life. Humans are wired for social connection, no doubt. When people, all people, feel a connection, feel valued, feel worth...they will grow, improve and bring others along in that journey.
In terms of students, if a student doesn’t feel that you, as the teacher, are invested in them, they will not be invested in you. If you can connect to students (and connection will look different with each kid), they will respect and behave for you. They will be more open to listen and engage in the curriculum. Without this important piece, I feel that the other two will be out of reach.
Students, just like all of us, want to know that you care about them. They want to trust you and connect to you. How does that happen? Is there a class? A curriculum? A magic “box” of lessons with a script to follow entitled “How to connect with kids”? Nope. Just like there is no manual when you become a parent, there is no manual on how to build relationships. The reason is, if it is inauthentic...robotic...fake..people can smell that a mile away. It needs to come from the heart. Children are quite intuitive and they know if you are being true.
Are there steps you can take, to help foster these relationships? Of course, many. They are the same steps to build any relationship. Connect, communicate, care and trust. How you do that, is up to you. I know that seems like an impossible task if you see a kazillion students in a day. But, the thing to remember is, that sometimes even the smallest gestures, make the biggest impact. A simple “high five”, a smile, a question “how is your day going?” (and listening to the answer) could be just what that student, that person, needed.
Do I have the answer? No, I just have my opinion and what I believe in my core. Through all facets in my professional and personal life, it’s these authentic connections with people that matter. If someone feels that you care, you value them, they will give you that in return.
So whatever your leadership role is: teacher, site leader, district leader, leader of your family, leader of a team...In my opinion, the key is relationships...real ones. Are you a leader, if you turn around and no one is following? It is these relationships and trust that cause people to follow. More importantly than “follow”, join in on the journey. Care, listen, validate. It takes time to build this; but you can only build it through your actions. Lip service can only go so far. Show...do...act.
So let me rephrase the question from my class: “What do you feel is most important when dealing with people? Why?” We are in a people business, the people we impact are our “customers”.
This post is a bit off the "leadership" topic. But through this short journey towards leadership, I have fallen often, I have been cut, bruised and scarred. I think it is important to acknowledge this part of the journey because it is real and it can be a game changer. Sometimes you will want to pick up your ball and go home, sometimes you will want to pack up your bags and leave. But oftentimes, if you wade through it...you will find growth.
A setback, a stumbling block, a bump, a blip, a fall from grace...such is life. We ALL encounter these as we move through the ebbs and flows of life. It is what we do in these instances that is most important. It is not the story of our fall, but of our rise. The great thing about OUR life, is that WE have choice. We can choose to go down the rabbit hole, or we can dust ourselves off, find the learning and keep moving forward.
It is as I climb out of the hole and clean off the dirt, that I write this today. When I think back on the many students I have worked with over the years, and recount their various stories...I am in amazement. These children, in their young lives, have dealt with many such setbacks. But as they say, children are resilient. We can learn from them. We owe it to our students, our colleagues, our family and our friends to be resilient as well.
Every time I stumble and fall, I force myself to get back up and keep going. But it is important to take stock and learn from the experience. Why did this happen? What could I have done differently? How could I have managed this better? What lesson did I learn? How will I use this new learning as I move forward?
Newton's third law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It is our choice...do we take what has happened and project it on to others or do we do the opposite and use our new found knowledge to help others? I choose B!
Isn't this what we want to instill in our students? Isn't this, as leaders, what we want to instill in others? If we fail forward, we can only continue to cut our losses and rack up our gains. If we, ourselves, can do this, we can model and help others though this. As a leader, I would think that people look to you for that guidance. Just like your own children look to your reaction to gauge their reactions. The people in your charge, will look to you. It is important to be authentic in our reaction and subsequent actions. As a leader, of any kind, we will be faced with such instances...how will we handle it?
So don't call it a setback...call it a comeback.
1) Give yourself permission to feel.
2) Give yourself time to reflect, but don't overthink, it doesn't do any good.
3) Ask yourself "what is the learning" and "how can I flip the switch?"
4) Ask yourself "how can I use this to better myself and for the betterment of others?"
5) React. You have a choice...equal or opposite?
Just writing this post, being vulnerable...is the exact OPPOSITE of what I wanted to do. But there is power in all of our stories, so I decided to own it and grow....
The choices we make, shape who we are. They also shape those around us. You may not even realize the circle of influence that you have. There is a ripple effect of your choices and your actions. Whether you affect your students in your classroom, your colleagues at work, your friends or your family, you have an effect. Just thinking about this, seems like a heavy weight to place on one’s shoulders. Does this idea change who we choose to be?
For me, the biggest choice I make everyday, is to be authentic. To be true to myself. It is unfair to myself and others around me, to be anything different. Sometimes I find myself apologizing for this. Yesterday I heard myself saying “I’m sorry, I can only be me”. What was I apologizing for? I followed it up with “Why be anything different?”. I would like to think that I am the same person, regardless of the situation or the people around.
Here is how I look at it. To me, being myself is tiring enough. Trying to put on an act, to be someone different; would be completely exhausting. I don’t see the point. I have tried...I have tried to act against myself, to protect myself. For me, it didn’t work, on the contrary, I just ended up hurting myself.
So, how does this tie into leadership? One thing I have learned from various experiences; being on both sides of the leadership line...BE AUTHENTIC! And not just be authentic in what you say, but in what you do, how you act, how you interact. Do what you say, say what you do and follow through. Build authentic, trusting relationships. This does not mean you have to let people in on every nook and cranny of your life. It just means, to let your actions and your decisions stem from your core values.
I have witnessed people try to wear different masks in different arenas, with different players. What I have seen...after a while those masks get all mixed up and the facade comes crumbling down. So I ask…”Why be anything different?”. By being authentic, it shows that you are human, people can connect.
As a classroom teacher, you are tasked with having a significant influence over your students. I felt that I owed it to my students to be authentic. I made mistakes...a lot. It was important for my students to see this, and see how to work through this. I have failed...I have fumbled...I have laughed and I have cried. These are all things that show our students that we are NOT superhuman, we are just like them.
But as much as I believe in being authentic, I know it is not easy. When you are authentic, you open yourself up to being vulnerable and that is scary. You may get burned and you may get hurt, but that is when you make that choice. YOU choose who shows up, everyday. For me, I say “You be you, and I will be me...why be anything different?”
I am a big proponent of being vulnerable, open and honest. Which is funny, because I tend to be closed off with certain aspects of my life. Trust is big with me and I don’t tend to give that away freely. But here is why I tell my story. If my story can help even one person, it is worth telling. So, how did I get from where I started, to where I am now, in my profession and my life? In this story, they are intertwined. This is a story of transformation.
It is interesting to look back and compare the me 15 years ago to the me now. In my current position, I have an avenue to share ideas, to support others. I stand in front of large groups of people and encourage best practices and taking risks. A definite contradiction from where I began...
I began my teaching career in 2001 as a Kindergarten teacher. Most people will tell you that their first years of teaching were horrific. I am in the minority, as my first years and all subsequent years were fantastic, in one aspect. I never had that “one” class. I had wonderful students, every year. Maybe I am looking back with rose colored glasses, but I remember a wonderful experience, at least with my students. Beyond my four walls, and within myself, THAT is a different story.
Throughout my 13 years in the classroom, I taught many grades (K-4) and many combinations. With every change; first there was panic, but then I grew to love each and every class. What did occur during the first 11 years, was a lot of doubt. Why was I moved around so much? Was the principal trying to get rid of me? Was I a bad teacher? My constant movement was never explained to me, so left to my own devices, I only thought “I must be a bad teacher”. No one ever told me any different, so I just continued down that rabbit hole of self doubt. On the one hand, I felt I was doing a good job because my students were happy in my class, we had fantastic relationships and they made great growth when they were with me. But why did I feel so bad about myself? When I reflect back, I never received the much desired “atta boy”, but just questions on how I could do something differently, in my mind, better. I continued to work hard, improve my practice, but at the same time, withdraw into my four walls and into myself.
I was quiet, incredibly quiet, almost silent. I was that teacher on campus who never shared what was happening in my classroom. Not because I didn’t want to share with others, but because I was afraid that what I was doing was “wrong”. In my class, students were allowed freedom to be creative. I incorporated art, music, and drama...but I hid it all because I thought it was “bad”, yet I saw so many gains. Students who struggled academically had now found confidence in the arts. With encouragement, that confidence spilled over into all facets of their learning, and that is when growth happened. This idea definitely parallels my journey. More on that later...
I was the teacher that sat in 11 years of staff meetings and NEVER said a word, out of fear and lack of confidence. I always had ideas to contribute, but didn’t feel they were worth contributing. If I ever felt brave enough to voice something, I would just whisper it to a colleague and have them say it out loud. Somehow, when they repeated it, it sounded amazing. Even if it were my exact words, it always sounded better coming from them, then it did in my head.
I spent 11 years in self doubt, that my ideas didn’t matter and that I had nothing to contribute...at my school and in my life. But I am here to to prove that circumstances can change, people can change and sometimes it just takes one person believing in you to change your life's trajectory.
A leader. If someone would have told me that I would be leading ANYTHING, two years ago, I would have laughed in their faces. But here I am, with a greater understanding of what a leader truly is. I have learned that as educators, we are all leaders in our own right. I did not come to this realization until I had been out of the classroom for a while. I had always thought of a leader as a “boss”, and I am only the boss of myself.
Through many experiences over the past year and a half, I have since changed my idea of what a leader is. I am currently in a weird paradox, as I am a teacher, but I am also on the other side of the fence as I provide support to others. I know I am not an “official” leader, but at times feel I am. I am constantly wavering back and forth.
To me, a leader is someone who sees potential in people and fosters and grows those people to be better than their current selves. A leader is someone who risks and grows alongside others. A leader is someone who celebrates and encourages as well as supports and values. Leadership is built on trust, relationships and actions. When I reflect back on all of my years of teaching, that was me (or at least it was my intent) for my students.
My hope is that this is me, now, for the people I encounter and work with in my current job. My hope is that with every interaction, I can provide that encouragement, support, trust and relationship. I know I am constantly learning and growing with every, situation and interaction. This has been a long journey of discovery for me, but it has been well worth it.
How did I get here...and where will I go? Who will join me on this journey?
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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