The girl in that image is my 13 year old daughter, Leslie. If you ask her, who she is...her reply would be 'A dancer!' If you ask me one thing that I regret about my childhood, I would say "Not becoming a dancer!" Now I know I would never have been a professional dancer, but I love to dance, still to this day. My grandmother owned a dance studio, so when I turned 5, I took my first class from her. According to her, it would be my last class. I apparently marched up to her at the end of that first class and told her "I don't want to do this." and so that was the end my dancing career.
I was the girl on the right. I loved to breakdance (cardboard and all) and do hip hop. To my grandmother, that was not dancing. So instead of joining her studio, my best friends and I created our own dances and found our own places to perform (my friend's dad's tire shop 😂). Later, my grandmother started offering Jazz classes at her studio, so I gave it a whirl. I went to the first class and never returned. I loved the style, the teacher was great! But I didn't think I was great...I didn't believe in myself. To me, all of the other students were dancers and I was an imposter. I let my fear rule me and I regret it! Unfortunately, it took me until about a year ago to adopt the "Leap" philosophy of life. Now I just say "yes" to new adventures and figure out the how, along the way. Since doing so, my whole world has changed!
I have spoken to enough educators to know that the one thing holding many back from their great...is fear. A few years ago, a colleague told me she envied me...WHAT? She envied that I just tried things with my students...she said she couldn't do that because she was afraid of failing in front of them. We need to change this. We need to take risks for our students, so we can give them the maximum experience AND we need to instill risk taking within them.
When I was in the classroom, one of my favorite things to do was put on a class musical. It was always so amazing to see students shine in a different element. I would hold 'auditions' to place students where they could be their best.
My fourth grade year, as I looked down the line of students that were trying out for the solo song...I was shocked and admittedly a little worried when I saw James in that line. James is one of my "heart students". He struggled academically and socially and felt very little self worth. A month before this audition, he had threatened to hurt a girl in our class and later revealed to me that he wanted to kill himself because his dad made him feel worthless. We got him the help he needed at the time and he seemed to be doing better. But this quiet, shy, sad kid was going to sing? Who am I to be a roadblock, but I did hold my breath as he began.
When that kid opened his mouth...I cried! I looked over at my friend who was the chorus teacher and was met with tears streaming down her face. I looked at the other students in the class and their mouths were gaping and some had tears in their eyes as well! This kid had the most beautiful voice! But more than that, you could feel the emotion behind it. It was incredible! The class gave him a standing ovation and he grew about two inches that day.
Needless to say, he got the part. Whithin that, he gained much needed confidence! The change in him socially AND academically was insane! He was a new kid! The best part, was that he knew it AND his dad knew it. Dad was a tough character, very intimidating. But he came up to me after the performance, with tears in his eyes to thank me. He thanked me for showing him how great his son was. We cried together and I explained that it was all James...HE took that leap! It breaks my heart to imagine what his trajectory would have been had he not done so. He never would have known his great! He would never have known what it feels like to fly! James's decision to leap, was really a life changing moment as I have followed up on him as he moved through school and life.
It is imparative that we model and intstill such risk taking in our students. Let's give them a safe place to leap and fall and leap again...they will eventually fly! It could be transformational!
This weekend was a huge time of reflection for me. I believe it is important to reflect back often to see growth and respect the journey. Although this post will focus on my professional reflection, for me the line between professional and personal is a permeable one. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two. What affects one often affects the other.
When I look back at where I was a year ago, to where I am today, it's surreal. Most of the changes that have occurred are ones that only I see and feel...or so I thought. Yesterday, someone called out the changes that they have witnessed from the outside...things I didn't even see. People are like butterflies.
These changes both felt internally and seen externally were transformational. I am typically a quiet and shy introvert who thinks and feels deeply. This hasn't changed, but something has. My mindset has changed, my focus has changed...I have changed. I have realized that I can speak up about things that I am passionate about. I can share my ideas and thoughts with others and try to promote change. This is all new to me. How did the shift happen? Organically.
As with any change, there has to be a catalyst. For me, my catalyst was people. I am thankful every day that I have been blessed with amazing people that help me stretch forward. These people have been there to encourage me, support me and grow me! I don't know how I got so lucky, and I don't even want to question it, I just want to live in it. I have had the opportunity to be counseled, advised and work with some incredible educational leaders. These leaders have been so humble and open and that is why it works. I feel like I am safe to share my thinking with them and we grow ideas together. There are no "title barriers", no egos...just people sharing, stretching and growing forward about things we care about. I often feel like in these relationships, that I'm not pulling my weight. It feels like I'm always taking and don't do much of the giving. So I try my best to jump all in and give all I have, and with every interaction, there is growth (at least on my end).
I use the above butterfly quote often. I use it to help spark others to be open with each other. I am an observer of people. I always try to look for that spark in others AND share that with them. I see great in others, that they can not see for themselves. I think it is important to help others see what I see. I look for the potential in others and try to foster that.
But what I haven't shared, is what it means to me. I, like many others, am my own worst critic. I know that I need to be confident within myself and not look to the outside for validation, but then there is reality. It has taken me seeing myself through the eyes of others, to realize my own potential. It has taken others believing in me, to begin to believe in myself. People are like butterflies.
We need others. Plain and simple. We need others to show us the way. We need others to help us grow. We need others to put us in check. And we need others to survive. I've tried the isolation thing and it doesn't work. I have grown through the sharing of ideas, and this still blows my mind. I am not used to others listening to my ideas and expanding on them. It still floors me when this happens. It's amazing and it's beautiful. And I have seen the magic when we wrestle together to make it work.
I didn't learn about this in school and I just learned about this in life, and it is a game changer! This is one of the reasons I am so passionate about connecting people together. I love to watch this process and the results are always so much better than anticipated. We, as educators, need to work together for the greater good. No one person can be strong in every area, that is why we need each other to play off each others' strengths and complement each other's weaknesses.
This is also why I am so passionate about providing these same opportunities for our students. They need to be given the time and a safe place to work with others. They need to be shown how to honor and work through divergent thinking. They need to understand that we truly are better together. When we honor others' ideas, we empower them and they can begin to see how beautiful they truly are.
People are like butterflies.
Last week I began my fourth year out of the classroom as an instructional coach. At the end of last year, I heavily considered going back into the classroom. The hardest part about being out of the classroom is...well...being outside of the classroom.
Last weekend, I was chatting with a friend about leadership. I realized that I had not written about leadership in awhile, my focus has been more on changes in education and teaching. As I was discussing with him, I told him that I didn't feel like I had anything to say on the subject of leadership. I knew what the response would be (which I told him), because it would be the response that I would give anyone else. He said "You are a leader, we are all leaders. In fact, our students are probably better leaders than those with an actual leadership title." (paraphrased from memory :)
I knew I needed to listen to this guy, because he, himself is an incredible edu-leader. If you don't know Brad Gustafson, you need to get to know him! In our brief discussion, we actually covered a lot of ground. I shared with him what I admired about all the amazing leaders that I know (him included). They all have many of the same traits. I shared with him, that I try to emulate those same traits on a daily basis.
We also discussed the importance of reflection. So here I am, today, reflecting on that conversation and my ideas about what makes an effective and successful leader. This list is based on my conversations, observations and experiences with many leaders over the last few years.
1) Be humble: One thing that all the leaders that I admire have in common...they are humble. They are down to earth, salt of the earth people. They are REAL and it shows. There is no ego at play, they show who they are and they prove it again and again.
2) Be transparent: In my opinion, these leaders are successful because they show their cards. There is no hidden agenda, they state their vision and plan for that vision. They also do not ever claim to know everything or be perfect. They share their struggles and their fails as well as their triumphs and successes. In fact, in Brad's book: Renegade Leadership, he has a section in each chapter called "Epic Fails". It is so important to share fails and the learning that occurs.
3) Be empathetic: These gentleman all have empathetic hearts. This means that they are sensitive to the people in which they serve. They ask and take in the point of view of others and ask for feedback. They then actually take what they have learned as they plan forward.
4) Be a servant: These leaders all believe that they are in a servant business...that we have the most important clients of all...children. Their ideas and decisions always have the students at the heart. They don't just say it, they show it.
5) Be righteous: These leaders all have integrity. They do what they say and they say what they do. They walk the talk. Their actions and their words match up. They get in the mix and model the way. I believe that leaders must KNOW those in which they serve and the only way to do this is to BE with them. These leaders make that a point.
6) Be a learner: All of these leaders are very accomplished in their fields and all speak across the country about leadership. Many are successfully published authors as well. But that is not what I admire most, I admire the fact, that regardless of all of these accomplishments, they are still learners. They learn from each other, they learn from their teams, their teachers and their students. We need our leaders to be continuously learning along side us.
7) Be a giver: These leaders share...they share their knowledge, their skills and their learning. They share it widely. They understand that we are all better together and they support others on their journey of growth through sharing.
8) Be a support: A great leader finds the strengths in others and supports and encourages them to use them. They don't look at title before ideas...before skills. They will give credit to those who deserve it, no matter their "rank". An effective leader builds that capacity in their people, because they understand that as each individual grows, so does the team or organization.
Please remember, this is just my opinion and I could list many more here, but to me, these are the most important. Notice there is nothing in that list that has to do with intelligence, title or experience. To me, those things do not make a leader. There are leaders, in title, who do not prove to be leaders at all. To that end, there is the opposite. There are many who are leaders by action, but do not have the title. These are the ones who I am talking to. Leadership is more about action, than title! Everyone can be a leader, and most of you probably already are...others see it, now you need to see it yourself. When these actions come from a leader WITH the title, THAT is an incredibly positive combination. There ARE so many who fit in this category, and that is amazing!
If we were able to leverage more people in our field, with those skills, imagine the shifts we could make! Take some time to reflect on yourself, on your actions. Please see yourself as others see you... YOU ARE A LEADER...own it!
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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