Taking the leap into leadership has provided me with opportunities to expand my impact and broaden my influence in ways I couldn’t have imagined until I started living them. Through my progression from teacher, to reading specialist to instructional coach and now administrator, I have dedicated a substantial amount of time thinking about the type of leader I needed and the leader I aspire to be. This introspection has motivated me to seek out ways in which I can create nurturing spaces where teachers thrive, discover their gifts, and infuse their work with a profound sense of meaning and purpose.
Who We Are is How We Lead
If you are in the field of education, you are acutely aware of the time constraints that can become a barrier to the growth and development of educators. To address this challenge, I have strived to make every interaction with the educators in my immediate learning community and beyond as intentional as possible. During my recent listening of Adam Grant’s Re: Thinking Learning podcast, I came across a powerful statement from guest Brené Brown, “Who we are is how we lead.” This statement deeply resonated with me. At my core, I will always view myself as a teacher and a coach; this has been my guiding principle in my approach to leadership. Through my background in instructional coaching and my continuous pursuit of learning including engaging in professional development, reflective writing, reading insightful books, listening to podcasts, and observing the actions of exceptional leaders, I have to deeply value the power of leading and living through a coaching mindset.
Observing Through a Coaching Lens: 8 Ideas to Lift the Level of Conversation and Transform Practice
Last year, I wrote a blog post titled, Observing Through a Coaching Lens: 8 Ideas to Lift the Level of Conversation and Transform Practice. I asked the following questions of myself and encouraged others to think about. How can I continue to be the administrator I always needed during the observation process? How can I capitalize on my teaching and coaching experiences to elevate and support the educators I serve? I also shared that I have always appreciated the role of a coach, a thinking partner, a knowledgeable colleague who can help me see things differently than I may have seen them before. I invite you to read it as that post builds on the ideas I am going to share in this writing.
In addition to the ideas I have shared in my previous post, each year I will continue to refine my approaches and have added the following ideas to my previous post:
3 Ideas to Leverage Learning During the Classroom Visit of the Observation Process
Lean into Learning: There is so much to see when you enter a classroom space. At times,it can become overwhelming if leaders cannot pinpoint what they are looking to learn with the teacher and students. As stated in my previous post, I ground the observation process in the mission and vision of the school district and facilitate conversations that clearly focus on the district’s priorities. The pre-observation conversation is a great time for a leader and a teacher to select a learning focus together with those ideas in mind. This year, I continued with a learning focus that is rooted in lifting the level of classroom talk. In many conversations and professional learning experiences, I have shared Using Dialogic Conversations to Develop Oral Language from Jan Burkins and Kari Yates. The Engage, Repeat, Expand strategy and the prompts it includes has enabled teachers to plan with more intentionality and has provided students with a tool for more purposeful classroom talk. This practice has helped deepen understanding about various topics and texts, has supported students to actively listen to other perspectives, and put an emphasis on expanding one another’s academic vocabulary.
Lift the Level of Practice: Over the last few years, I have worked toward building relationships and trust with my colleagues. In turn, when I am observing in classrooms, I have become more comfortable with providing coaching in real time. This organically happens as a lesson is unfolding and I can foresee an opportunity for students and teachers to take the learning that is transpiring to the next level. When I started developing the courage to do this, I incorporated this approach into my pre-observation conversation. It sounds something like this: “I am excited to visit your classroom and learn with you and your students.I approach observations as an opportunity to be a thinking partner with you. Since I am a teacher and instructional coach at heart, this can be a great way for me to coach into a lesson if I see there is an opportunity to take learning to the next level. How do you feel about that? The responses I have received have been positive. Often the teacher will respond by sharing that they are excited to grow their practice together and implement the ideas immediately. This year a teacher shared that it helped for me to show her how to take a more teacher-led discussion about literature and shift it to a student-led conversation. Her feedback made my year! HERE are some coaching stems that can be adapted to coach-in during a class lesson.
Listen and Learn Inside the Classroom Space: When I enter a classroom, I really try to take the experience all in. I scan the classroom walls and find the learning that lives in the landscape of the classroom. I jot down what I see in my notes so I can use a displayed teaching tool as a talking point during the post-observation conversation. It might sound something like this: Tell me more about this great anchor chart and how it elevates student learning experiences? I love that you have student work hanging in that space in the corner, tell me more about how you selected that particular work to highlight in your classroom? Additionally, I try to actively listen to as many student and teacher interactions and conversations as I possibly can. This enables me to think about how the interactions are aligned with the assessment criteria, purpose of the lesson, and the standards being addressed. As mentioned in my previous post, when I leave the classroom, I may include a portion of the conversation I heard in a Voxer Voice Note to support and celebrate the goodness I was seeing in the classroom. In that same voice note, I will leave the teacher with a wondering about what I observed. I have been told that this practice has been appreciated as teachers know that I am paying attention to their hard work and leaving them with immediate feedback and something that they can think about implementing immediately before receiving the observation write-up.
The observation process becomes an invaluable opportunity to embrace a coaching mindset and elevate the quality of teachers’ and administrators’ work in schools. If approached with intention and purpose, it provides an avenue of support that can uplift educators, enhance their teaching practices, tap into their untapped potential, and bring forth their best selves.
The trajectory of my career has been a journey filled with unexpected surprises, leading me to places I could have never anticipated or imagined. My purpose of bringing out the gifts in others while keeping kids at the heart of decision-making has always remained steadfast. However, every path I’ve walked has presented me with a collection of choices which have forced me to summon the momentum inside myself to take action and acknowledge that growth and comfort cannot coexist.
I have to admit that early on in my career, I found myself spending time dwelling on how things are supposed to be. I lived by more rules that were influenced by traditional norms and the ones I created for myself, striving to row towards a place of perfection, and waiting for the right moment to start something new. I told myself that the conditions needed to feel “right,” more trust needed to be established, or that I needed to strengthen my knowledge base so I could take action. However, the days of perseverating over shiny plans and methods have been long done. What I have learned, is that stepping into the mess of learning, focusing on priorities and outcomes, embracing what is actually in front of me, paying attention to what feels right, and letting life unfold is the key to moving towards where I am meant to be.
So I ask, how can leaders let go of preconceived expectations, embrace the transformative process of continuous learning and forge a path that aligns with where they are meant to be?
In the year 2021-2022, I embarked on my first administrative role as an assistant principal in a wonderful school district. From the moment I stepped into the building, I was greeted by kids and colleagues running up to me, knowing my name, and eager to share their excitement about the day ahead. It felt incredible to have an opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. I have never taken for granted that I was entrusted to lead, learn, and grow into a leadership role. With the support of an amazing principal who served as a role model during what was considered one of the hardest years in education, I dove headfirst into my role. I loved learning about the assistant principal role that is heavily rooted in student life, connecting with students, families, the administrative team, and fellow educators. There is something unbelievably special about being a building administrator. Every day you get to strengthen connections in close proximity to the people around you and make an impact on the hearts and minds of those you serve in the same place, every day. It’s like having a built-in family and a consistent place to call home. Of course, there are challenges and my biggest learning curve was understanding the day to day operations of a building and navigating safety protocols.
Building Bridges, Inspiring Growth
Just as I was hitting my stride as an assistant principal and feeling more confident in my ability to build relationships and drive instructional improvement, there was an opportunity to become the Director of Literacy K-12. At first, the idea of leaving behind the school community that had become so meaningful to me didn’t feel right. In one year, I had poured so much of myself into building relationships with students, teachers, and families, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to give that up. Nonetheless, the opportunity to make a broader impact on literacy instruction across the district and strengthen learning experiences for kids felt incredibly important. As I reflected on the bigger picture, I began to see my internal obstacle as a chance to open a door to a new path. Ultimately, I decided to take a leap of faith, embracing the new challenge set before me, even though it meant leaving behind a role that had come to feel so rewarding.
Navigating New Horizons
As I made the transition from assistant principal to the Director of Literacy K-12, I contemplated the approaches I would employ to establish myself in this new role. Learning about a new role, navigating new relationships, deciphering the dynamic of teams, and being visible in multiple settings will never be a simple task. The scope of my work that once lived inside one building had now broadened significantly, spanning across a K-12 continuum, necessitating a shift in my approach. I recognized that as I was making this shift in my role, it would come with many celebrations and obstacles I’d have to overcome. With this solid foundation and an expanded perspective, I have been able to fortify and enhance my goals as I transitioned into the role of Director of Literacy. These new goals seamlessly build upon the foundation set during my time as an assistant principal, allowing for a more comprehensive and impactful approach to promoting literacy within the district.
From Building to District Goals
Questions That Drive My Goals
Nurturing Leadership and Relationships: Fostering Growth in Literacy Education
How can I develop a strategic entry plan that prioritizes relationship-building, acknowledges current literacy practices, and identifies opportunities for enhancing literacy support?
Unleashing Evidence Informed Insights: Empowering Instruction for Student Achievement
How can I effectively analyze data and share it with buildings to drive instruction and improve literacy outcomes?
Cultivating Professional Learning Communities in Literacy Education: Inspiring Growth and Collaboration
How can I work closely with staff developers, teachers, administrators and ELA liaisons to enhance coaching approaches, develop curriculum materials, and provide professional learning opportunities?
Bridging Technology and Community: Engaging Partnerships in Literacy Education
How can I model the intentional use of technology in professional learning experiences and disseminate information related to literacy education?
Forging Growth Beyond Comfort
As you reflect on your educational journey, you will most likely recognize that your own path has never been perfectly paved. You too, may have created storybook professional narratives, allowing them to become blueprints for your journey. But along the way, those stories were rewritten as you discovered that you were destined for a different destination. When you come to a crossroads, the people on that path can serve as guiding lights and mentors, propelling you to a path of self-discovery. You are shaped by the mosaic of people you’ve learned from, each contributing their unique piece to the tapestry of your personal and professional growth. Each new opportunity, every opened door, has taught you the invaluable lesson that growth lies beyond the realm of comfort.
As I progress along my professional path as the Director of Literacy, I wholeheartedly dedicate myself to continuing to cultivate connections and strengthen my understanding of the ever-evolving literacy landscape that surrounds me, while bringing out the best in others. These actions will harness the inner momentum that propels me forward. Instead of allowing my own narratives to confine me, I will maintain an open mind and focus on moving towards where I am meant to be.
Teaching and leading is not just something you do, it’s a calling; it’s a beautiful gift; it’s an opportunity to unleash the talents within every human being you encounter; it’s a time to cultivate powerful relationships that have the chance to stand the test of time; teaching and leading creates a space to collaborate with colleagues and builds bridges to connect previous learning to new and innovative ideas. Educators and leaders are responsible for shaping significant moments in time that can leave profound imprints in the hearts and minds of every learner and colleague they touch. Teaching and leading is also hard work. It can be extremely emotional. It can be draining. But, it’s so incredibly rewarding. That said, as an educator and leader, how will you leverage your experiences to serve as a mentor for your colleagues, staff, and students, fostering their personal and professional growth in a way that leaves a lasting impact on their journeys?
The Leader Lives Inside
The journey to becoming a great educator and leader is an ongoing process of self-discovery and eternal growth. The mentors who were and continue to be placed in your path have played a crucial role in helping you bring out the best version of yourself. As you continue to discover the leader that lives inside you, you may recognize the significant influence your mentors have contributed to the educator and leader you are becoming.
When you take a journey back in time, can you still see and hear the people who believed in your gifts and unleashed the leader inside you? I can. My story starts at a young age. When I close my eyes, I can still see myself sitting at my desk in my 4th-grade classroom. I don’t remember other classrooms as vividly as I remember this one. I can clearly see my teacher, Mrs. Roth, greeting me at the door, wearing a genuine smile of hope, and offering sincere nods of encouragement. I can feel her positive spirit permeating through my malleable heart. When you are a young learner, you are more impressionable. So, when you are lucky enough to have teachers with high emotional intelligence, they can be more responsive and less reactive to your needs. There were times I could feel myself losing the confidence I needed when learning new things or doing hard things. Regardless of how I felt, Mrs. Roth showed me appreciation for the person I had the potential to become. For example, I was a struggling reader, who lacked the stamina to persevere through a reading or writing task. When Mrs. Roth saw my head meeting my desk, I heard, “Lauren, you can do this. You’re a reader. Lauren, yes, you can do this. You’re a writer.” When I was charged with the privilege of reading aloud to younger students to instill a love of reading while improving my own reading abilities, I would hear, “Lauren, yes, you can do this. Those little ones look up to you. You’re a role model. You’re a leader.”
As you progress in your career as an educator, it’s crucial to prioritize the needs and goals of students and keep them at the heart of decision-making. As you keep your eyes open to new opportunities that align with this purpose, you’ll not only develop your own capacity but also inspire and uplift those around you. It always feels important to acknowledge and appreciate the people in your past and present who have enriched your educational experiences. There will also be people you have yet to meet who will make vital contributions to your growth, and shape the leader you are striving to become. Those people are awaiting your arrival at your next destination because you were meant to be there, with them. In the book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek shares “Faith is knowing that you’re on a team, even if you don’t know who the players are.” Consider every moment on your journey as a significant step towards your future. Every action you choose to take is a chance to refine ideas and collaborate with individuals you may have not known existed. When you approach every observation and interaction as a learning experience, you are enhancing your leadership lens and embracing new opportunities that nurture your talents in unanticipated times and places. In best selling book, Atomic Habits James Clear shares “Every action we take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” When you are striving to be your personal best, you are taking necessary actions to step out of your comfort zone to explore other opportunities a little more deeply.
My commitment to stepping out of my comfort zone remains unwavering and I am grateful to share that in my upcoming book, I will be illuminating stories that highlight the leader that lives within each of us. I am grateful for the support and guidance of George and Paige Couros of IMPress books, who have always encouraged me to write, believed in me, and empowered me to amplify my voice and the voices of others. I am also appreciative of Dave and Shelley Burgess for this opportunity. As a result of my own experiences and the mentorship of great educators, leaders, and friends over the course of my life, I am committed to continuing reflecting on my learning, writing more blog posts, and using my upcoming book to connect with, empower, and inspire others to step out of their comfort zones to embrace new opportunities. My hope is that this book serves as a mentor that can lead the greater educational community to pathways of hope and promise. These defining moments in our journeys shape who we were, who we are, and who we are destined to become.
Leading and learning together is a privilege. New opportunities to grow ideas and collaborate with others within an educational organization are all around you. The energy you exude as a leader can have a significant impact on the people you lead. If you acknowledge what you can’t accomplish given the vast scope of your work, others will be willing to step in, support you, and make meaningful contributions to the mission and vision of the organization in which you serve. True growth transcends when you leverage the collective experiences and expertise of the people around you. When you limit your work to your own perspective, it’s an invitation to building unnecessary barriers and missing out on invaluable insights that can propel your team to success. In the book, Lead Like a Teacher, by Miriam Plotinsky, she shared “It became increasingly clear that when leaders and teachers work together consistently with a shared desire to help students achieve, they are close to unstoppable.”
As leaders who are dedicated to learning with and from others, your intent is always to make a commitment to navigate your days with authenticity, an open heart, and mind. In making an effort to connect with others and value the purpose of the work, you can see people and things in ways you may not have noticed before. Unearthing new ideas in unexpected places opens doors to the fresh possibilities, even in the face of obstacles that can impede the optimal level of student success.
A Missed Opportunity to Learn From
When I was a teacher, I attended a local conference with other teacher leaders and a large group of administrators. In the morning, together we attended various sessions where we expressed how excited we were to learn new things to bring back to our school district. I’ll never forget the next part of this story. During lunch, my colleagues and I sat with a few administrators, while a larger group of administrators sat at another table. Suddenly, the administrators who joined our table had abruptly left to join their colleagues. It felt somewhat awkward because their table was overcrowded while ours had empty seats. To me, this action unintentionally created a noticeable divide between teachers and administrators. Would it have been more beneficial to have quality time and inclusive conversations with educators who work directly with students and teachers to help move our schools forward? The missed opportunity at this conference highlights the importance of how leaders can be more intentional about creating more opportunities for educators to come together and share their thinking and learning, naturally bridging the gap between the role of an administrator and teacher.
Level the Playing Field
As I have mentioned in my previous writing, to me, there are no titles in education. If you have been entrusted to work with kids, someone has faith in your ability to model the behaviors you want to instill in students and colleagues around you. Therefore, the relationship between leaders, colleagues, and staff must be symbiotic in nature. By leveling the playing field, and leaving egos at the door, stakeholders can work together toward a common goal. Plotinsky also added this sentiment in her book, “When teachers and leaders do not seek to understand one another, that becomes one of the largest untapped barriers to school progress.” Having time to reflect together and talk ideas, share our successes, and challenges can become pivotal moments that help leaders capitalize on the expertise of those around us. In the book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday has shared, “Where one person sees a crisis, another can see opportunity.”
That said, how can we build social capital by coming together to share meaningful ideas that can have a positive impact on the organizations we live in?
Here are 3 Actionable Ideas to support the vision of Leading Together
Intentionally Embrace Shared Experiences: Recently, I attended a local conference with a few of the teachers I lead. The experience I shared above at the conference I attended years ago has stayed with me. Even though I was meeting an old friend and colleague at this conference, I also made sure to get to the conference early and save seats for the teachers I work with. That morning, I found them on the other side of the room and immediately invited them to join me at the table. This small move ensured that we could connect and share ideas. In turn, they surprised me by attending the session I was facilitating, even though I tried to convince them to attend another! This strengthened our leader-teacher connection because I made the space for that time together!
Proximity Counts: When I facilitate department meetings, it’s always important to me to sit with teachers. I often position my chair so that it appears that I am not the only “leader” of the meeting. This sends the message that “your voice matters” and “you are an important contributor to this discussion.”Also, by sitting with teachers and being physically closer to them, allows me to pay closer attention to nonverbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. This helps me better understand their perspectives. This builds trust, cultivates community, and strengthens future communication and collaboration.
Reflective Questioning Grows Ideas: Recently I facilitated a secondary department meeting, where I asked the following two questions:
What were some of your most successful teaching moments this year, and why do you think they were successful?
What advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of the school year, based on what you know now?
After providing some wait time, these questions opened up a wide range of discussion and allowed teachers to share best practice in an authentic way. These learning spaces create an environment where ideas are valued and learning is prioritized. At the end of the meeting, a veteran teacher whom I greatly admire said, “What I just learned is that I need to talk to my colleagues more about what they are doing. I’d like to add more creativity to my teaching.”
The leaders who inspired me to want to become a leader always considered their teachers more important than themselves. How will you commit to creating spheres of influence that ensure teachers and leaders are leading and learning together? I can assure you that being intentional with this time will be a critical investment in the social capital deposit box. Never miss an opportunity to lead together to propel students and your colleagues towards success.
In the fall, I had the pleasure of listening to Kelly Gallagher, educator, writer, speaker, and author speak at a national conference across the country. Although he was incredibly inspiring then, his words seemed farther away, taking a little more time to land on my educator spirit. At the time, I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps, it was the bigger venue. Perhaps it was because I had arrived late to his session. Perhaps it was because prior to that, I was in a different room packing up my personal belongings and speaking with lingering educators after finishing the facilitation of my own session.
Since I consider myself to be an “on time” kind of person, my mild discomfort probably started there. It took me longer to get settled into a learning space that was overflowing with a sea of educators. I remember the image vividly, every seat filled with people sitting along the perimeter of the room and in the middle of the carpeted floor. What a compliment to both Kelly and Penny Kittle who was also presenting with him. I remember thinking how proud they must have felt to look around that room and know the legacy of their literacy work has had a profound impact on the world of education. It’s the kind of work that’s so meaningful that educators walk away feeling they can implement these new practices tomorrow and see better outcomes for their students. It’s the kind of work I look up to. The kind of work that makes me better. It’s the kind of work that made my day better.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to Kelly speak again at a local conference. It was four months later and this time, the day began differently. I had arrived at the venue early enough to select the table I would feel comfortable sitting at and was even able to save seats for colleagues and a longtime educator friend. After I got some breakfast and a much needed second cup of coffee, I turned my head back to the entrance to see if my friends were in view. Instead, I noticed Kelly sitting at one of the round tables in the back of the room. He was settling in and waiting for the conference to begin like everyone else. His image, once feeling so far away, suddenly, didn’t seem so far away anymore. He was much closer.
I didn’t think twice, I sprung up from my seat, walked over to his table, and greeted him with a smile and a subtle fan girl spirit. “Hi Kelly, welcome to Long Island. I saw you speak at NCTE in the fall. I am a big fan of your work.” Suddenly, I realized that his fall presentation may have had more of an impact on me than I realized at the time. It was certainly enough for me to have wanted to initiate this interaction. Kelly and I went on to have a conversation about travel, education, our shared technology issues at the last conference, and the day ahead of us. At that moment, we were just two educators, ready to embark on a day of learning. Towards the end of our conversation, I wished Kelly luck on his presentation and said I was looking forward to hearing him speak again. He replied, “Good luck with your presentation today too, Lauren.”
In that moment, I quickly remembered that once again I was given the opportunity to present and felt incredibly grateful to be able to share practices I am passionate about with other educators. Afterall, professional learning is not just something educators do. It’s a choice. It’s an obligation to help themselves and others grow into the learners and thinkers they are capable of being.
A little later on, I stood in an empty room, setting up for my presentation. As I scanned the empty room, I envisioned this sentiment: If I can make even one person’s day better, I have done my job. While I was talking with a few people I knew, I briefly looked up and noticed that the room wasn’t so empty anymore. Instead, it was filling up quickly. In fact, it began overflowing with a sea of educators, eventually filling every seat in the room. Then, I looked up again and saw that educators had begun pulling chairs from other areas to join the learning space, while others were sitting on the floor.
There were a few moments where I unexpectedly paused during my presentation to internally reflect on the educator I am continually becoming and asked myself, Am I too beginning to create a legacy that leaves a profound impact on the educators who cross my path? When the presentation concluded, a familiar woman approached me. She shared, “Lauren, I saw you present at NCTE and was so excited to be here to see you again. This is the kind of work I look up to, the type of work that makes me better.” I smiled and replied, “Well, it is an honor that you chose to spend your time with me again. I am grateful.” She looked back at me and said, “Lauren, I came back because you had an impact on me, not to mention, last time, I was sitting so far away, this time you were much closer.”
Stories are windows into the soul. They are hidden treasures that are buried beneath a sea of hopes, wishes, dreams. They are small moments in time that pass you by. They are memories that enrapture your heart and wrap around your spirit. They are the hidden paths to who you were, who you are, and what you are destined to become. You are a collection of invisible stories strung together and concealed by your external being. Stories bind us to people. They are entry points to connection and open pathways to your learning journey. They shape your core identity; they are a reflection of your perception, values and what you stand for. Stories are windows into our experiences. They are the ammunition that pushes you down the path to self-discovery. Your stories are living in mind memory boxes waiting to be courageously unwrapped and gifted to people who will use them to discover ideas and recognize their own passions.
As I have navigated over four decades of living including seventeen years in education I have lived the stories that have propelled me to be the leader I am becoming. I was born into a family of educators. My grandfather, my parents, my sister, and I all have stories to tell. Although each story is unique and special, mine is a little different as I am the first person in my family to have stepped into a formal leadership role. Along with my family, there have been people who have paved a path to my development and growth as a human being, educator, and leader. Some walked into my life for minutes, some for hours, some for days, and some for years. Some are more present than others, some have come and go, while others have remained by my side. Those people have likely seen me through the big and small wins, helped me navigate the obstacles I have faced, and have valued me for the person I am, not for the title I have served in. All of these people are important because they have shown me who I want and don’t want to be. For that, I am truly grateful.
Stories Are Fuel
In an #InnovatorsMindset podcast, George Couros brilliantly says “Stories are the fuel for innovation, they inspire us, they give us pertinent ideas, they get the work we are doing out to people in a really compelling way that goes beyond what a score could tell people about our students.” Beneath the facade of every human being lies personal, unique collections of stories that reveal reflections of who they are and who they want to be. Where are you creating spaces for educators to share how they found their path to education and leadership through stories?
We all have a story that captures how we journeyed to the path to leadership. Recently, I was asked to join a group of women to speak about my story that led me to leadership at an educational event. As I stood in the center of a wall to wall crowded room of influential women, my eyes scanned and surveyed it. As upbeat music played to greet the participants who chose to share the learning space with my colleagues and me, my mind wandered into a state of reflection. How did I get here? Who helped me see my potential and why didn’t others? Have I become a person of influence? Am I supposed to be here? One by one, ten women I admire and adore shared their stories with others, their path to leadership through vulnerability and grace. I noticed that they all had something in common. They gave recognition to others for the person they are continually becoming. That’s because leadership is not a business of “I”, it’s a business of “we”. When it was my turn to speak, I shared, “Getting to the place I am now did not come easily. It took some pretty amazing people to recognize my strengths and pick me up during the times when I had fallen down. There have been many remarkable moments in my career, but there have also been some disappointments. You see, we need those moments too. They support your personal evolution, your path to transformation. They help you see that happiness doesn’t just exist in where we are, it lives in what we have to do to get there.” So I ask, Where are you now and where do you want to be? In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, he says, ‘Your life bends in the direction of your habits. Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to become.’ When I reflect on my past and present experiences, I often ask myself, “Who is the leader you wish to become Lauren?” My answer is “I wish to become the leader I always needed.” No matter where your journey takes you, your actions create a collection of stories that can positively impact others.
Moving Forward Stories are lenses that formulate perspectives and cultivate community. They are sound bites, and short episodes of our lives. They are opportunities to personalize classroom experiences, make connections to new learning, and a bridge that connects us with people to form new ideas. In chapter 3 of the book Personal and Authentic, Thomas C. Murray passionately wrote, “Weaving together our experiences creates our story, makes us who we are, and determines the context in which we each learn.” Understanding and sharing our own stories and the stories within our school organizations forges deeper connections that lead to deeper learning. Understanding stories values the uniqueness of each individual and brings purpose to authentic work. As we proceed with our lives, we will encounter new opportunities and people who are waiting to meet us. It can be exciting to think about a team of people we have not yet met, but will eventually become a constant in our lives. Although every person has guided my direction, I have realized that we all have the divine power to choose our own paths, our ultimate destination. We can take our experiences, our stories, our lessons learned to bring our hopes and dreams to fruition. What will you do to intentionally shape the narratives you want to create and write the stories you want to be a part of?
Leadership is a choice. It rests on the shoulders of influence and inspiration, not compliance and control. Leadership is not a title, it’s an opportunity to recognize the greatness that lives inside others. It’s not about taking the credit for the work, but giving it to others. Leadership is about inspiring others to cultivate confidence in themselves so they can breathe life into ideas that will awaken their soul. Leadership is harnessing the gifts that are manifesting within. It’s letting others recognize their potential by planting seeds that they can nurture and grow.
Salute the Person
Growing up, I had leaders all around me. My Dad was one of them. He was and still is a well-respected educator who put people first. As a matter of fact, since he was an educator in the town I grew up in, we could not stop at a local restaurant or store without his former students running up to him and thanking him for his kindness, support, and the lessons learned from his classes. I still live where I grew up and the first thing people ask me is, “How is your Dad, Lauren? Please send him my best, he had a positive impact on me.” Although my Dad didn’t hold a formal leadership title, I always knew that he was a leader who left a legacy of influence in the hearts and minds of the students and colleagues he served. I also know that he learned this from his father who was a leader in his community and spent a lot of his time giving back to people who were less fortunate than him. As I journeyed through my childhood, teen, and adult years, I still turned to my Dad for advice. One of the pieces of advice he continues to share is, “Lauren, leaders salute the person, not the title. There is a leader inside us all.”
As I have navigated 17 years in education, those words actively live in my mind. I am a natural observer of people. I take great interest in what others say, do, and act on. I look closely at the body language, reactions, and responses of others. I try to understand others perspectives and have empathy for the hidden stories I cannot see. When truly reflecting on the people I have saluted throughout my life in any capacity, the common gifts they possess are their ability to lead through inspiration. I can still hear and see the leaders who didn’t limit my potential, instead, they fueled it. When I formally stepped into leadership, I often reflect on the experiences that shaped the leader I am becoming.
Three actions that have inspired me to unleash the leader inside:
Trusting People: My 5th grade teacher saw the leader inside of me. She recognized a shy girl’s potential to lead and support others. She chose me to take on the responsibility of being a 1st- grade class helper. Every Friday, I woke up in the morning with some extra pep in my step. I knew that I would be spending a period in Ms. Miller’s 1st-grade classroom where she gave me the responsibility of facilitating a small reading group. It felt so good to feel important, to sit in front of a group of students and model what it meant to be a good reader even though I was a reader who had challenges of my own. Looking back, I think my 5th-grade teacher knew that I lacked confidence with reading and asked a 1st-grade teacher to let me lead this work so I could develop confidence of my own. In the book Trust and Inspire by Stephen Covey, he shares, “Operating with a trust and inspire mindset means you manage things and you lead people.” When we lead people by elevating them, it helps them to recognize their strengths. They may not see the power of that move in the moment, but will eventually recognize its impact.
Asking Good Questions: Recently, my superintendent shared an article with our leadership team during a professional learning session titled, “A Beautiful Question” by Jim Knight. Knight shares, “Good questions are real manifestations of your curiosity and caring. Good questions are like intellectual fireworks, leading to explosions of ideas and more learning for the questioner and the conversation partner.” Although I highly recommend reading the article, there are really two ideas I want to highlight. One is that my superintendent is masterful at planting seed ideas within the people she serves. She is always sharing resources, quotes, and thoughts that spark collaboration and innovation among her team. I have seen this happen through a simple group text message. All she has to do is share an article in a text and ask one question, “What do you think?” This brings me to my 2nd idea and that is that great questions can lead to more creation and meaningful conversations. Once the article is in the group text, it takes minutes before there is an explosion of back and forth conversation in the text thread between her leadership team. I have seen the new ideas get implemented only days after the intellectual fireworks commenced! She is leveraging our intellectual power and elevating the leaders inside us.
Choosing Words Wisely: When bringing out the leader in people, we must recognize the powerful impact words have on ourselves and others. In the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, there is a chapter titled, Be Impeccable With Your Words: Thanks to ChatGPT, I curated some of the quotes from the chapter:
“The words we speak create our reality.”
“Whatever we swear to, we create the truth.”
“The word is a force, and it can create happiness or suffering.”
“It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”
“The way we communicate can either heal or destroy.”
“The first agreement is the key to everything, because it opens the door to the other three agreements.”
“Be impeccable with your word, and you will avoid your word becoming a poison that destroys yourself and others.”
Everyone’s perception is their reality. As leaders, when we are mindful of the words we use, we can better help others recognize the leader that lives inside them. You can help others shape the perception of themselves by positively communicating ideas, intention, purpose, and instill happiness that leads to bringing out the best in those you serve. Those actions directly impact every stakeholder in your organization and at the heart of it all, students.
When you salute the person and not the title, there is greater potential to find more leaders living among us. You have the potential to rekindle and ignite the spirit and joy within others. Great leaders inspire others to have confidence inside themselves. People yearn to be inspired. Breathe life into their gifts and ideas and show them the leader that awaits inside.
Have you ever observed leaders who authentically appreciate, trust, and value the people they serve? Those leaders have an innate gift for developing and unleashing the greatness within every person they encounter. They inspire others to humbly give their hearts and minds to others and make contributions to something that matters. I often think about the leaders who breathed life into my ideas, who trusted me to bring those ideas to fruition, and unlocked the potential I didn’t know I had. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
When I was a new teacher, I worked for the New York City Department of Education as a classroom teacher. I adored my first principal, Beth Longo. She is the one who gave me my first foot in the door when I had little experience in education. She was a mentor who saw the leader in me. Beth had high expectations, pushed her teachers to try new practices, was honest in her feedback, and gave them the courage to reflect on the educators they were and wanted to be. She had the ability to be direct in her approach while remaining endearing all at once. One day, Beth pulled me into her office and said, “Lauren, our district superintendent is visiting our school tomorrow with her team and I am going to bring them into your classroom.” What happened next? I stared at her without answering. I could feel this confused look on my usually rosy turned pale face. She interrupted my silence by saying, “Lauren, I know you are thinking that since you are a new teacher, I shouldn’t be bringing these people into your classroom. Is that why you aren’t answering me? That’s what you are thinking isn’t it?” I finally blinked. “Well… ummm…hmmmm. Maybe?” There, I finally answered, not wanting to commit to a specific response. She interrupted me again. “Lauren, I’ll see you in your classroom tomorrow. Just do me a favor…be yourself.” In that moment, I could feel the rosiness restoring through my pale cheeks and my heart rate returning to a more normal beat.
Helping Others Succeed
In Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead Podcast, Adam Grant shared, “The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.” Could shining the light on others, honoring who they really are, challenging them to do the hard things, and instilling a courageous spirit pave a path that shows others the leaders they are meant to be? There is a certain kind of excitement in inspiring others. When people feel that their work matters, they feel that they matter.
Learning About Yourself
The next day, my classroom instantly became a lab site, a revolving door. As I stood in the middle of my classroom, teaching and learning from my students, administrators who were also strangers took their place around the perimeter of my classroom. It felt like we were in the theater in the round. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw several guests approach my students. I can remember them asking, “What are you learning today?” To this very day, I don’t remember my guests’ faces or every interaction that happened in the room. What I do remember is what it felt like to be challenged and a good pressure to rise to the occasion by just being myself. I also vividly recall the conversation I had with Beth after the experience. She asked me this question, “Lauren, what did you learn about yourself as an educator today? I paused and the first thing I said was “I can do hard things while being myself.” She came back with another question. “Lauren, what did you learn from today that you can take with you for the rest of your career?” I replied, “I need time to think about that, Beth. Can I have some time to reflect?”
Learning From Yourself
It is 17 years later, and I am still thinking about Beth’s last question. If I were to answer what I learned from that experience today, I would respond with this: “Great leaders can help others find their inner drive and light sparks that ignite a sense of passion and purpose. They give you just the right amount of push, believe in you to grow into the leader you are destined to be, and encourage you to be the best version of yourself.” In the book Trust and Inspire, Stephen Covey shares the following sentiment and question: “Instead of asking why aren’t my people motivated? A better question to ask yourself is how can I better inspire those I lead?”As you proceed on your leadership journey, take a step into opportunities that can transform educators’ mindsets by letting them experience what it feels like to garner courage and step into hard things. There are future leaders waiting for you to recognize their innate gifts and unleash greatness within.
An educational ecosystem is filled with committed groups of stakeholders who are working tirelessly to support the social, emotional, and intellectual growth of kids. Each group and person within the ecosystem brings unique perspectives that contribute to the growth and evolution of the organizations in which they serve. As I move forward as a new administrator, I am continually learning to navigate my surroundings with more intention and purpose. I am living and growing within new ecosystems and with that newness could bring some natural feelings of self-doubt.
You have all felt that kind newness I am talking about before. You have all stepped into new spaces and have created your own mind narratives leaving you feeling weary, judged, nervous, and perhaps confused. These feelings can take you back in time. For example, when I was in middle school, I had to make a change in my academic schedule. This meant that I would have to endure a new lunch period, meet new people, and worry about where I would sit during one of the most awkward stages in my life. I’d have to find a seat with people who had already been sitting together for months. I created this story in my head that no one would want to sit with me. I thought about the possibility of standing in front of the lunchroom desperately searching for familiarity and acceptance. And then the actual day came…when I walked into the cafeteria, my eyes intensely and quickly scanned the room for a familiar face, a smile, eye contact…anything. Suddenly, I heard an unfamiliar voice say, “Hey, come over and sit with us. Do you remember holding the door open for me when I was walking into school earlier? I don’t know how I would have made it alone holding that instrument case and a pile of books!” I finally exhaled and smiled back, “Oh yes, I did hold the door for you!” The truth is, I didn’t remember holding the door. Holding a door for someone who needed help is just something I would do. What seemed like a relatively insignificant interaction for me that day, meant something more significant to someone else. Then, that someone else disrupted the narrative I created and helped me step into newness.
When you step into a new school or a new role it kind of feels like the crowded lunchroom of unfamiliar faces where you don’t know all of the people and you don’t know if you will be greeted in a welcoming way. You don’t know their stories, their educational philosophies or personal/professional goals. That can become frustrating, if you let it. I like to think of myself as a proactive person who takes action swiftly, but when things are new, I find myself holding back a little more, listening more attentively, consuming all different types of information, trying to be more responsive and less reactive, and asking lots of questions. This was a shift in mindset when I stepped into the newness of leadership. I came to a place where I recognized that there is strength in asking questions. I know I have to do this because I cannot possibly be the keeper of all the answers. And even if I have answers, I am keenly aware that my colleagues who have been living in the ecosystem will have other answers that either confirm what I am thinking, shift my thinking, and/or share a perspective I would have never thought of, EVER.
Over the last several weeks, I have been reflecting on the number of questions I have asked since I became an administrator. I know I have asked far more questions stepping into a leadership role than I had when I was teaching. You may find this funny, but I actually asked myself “Why is that, Lauren?” Teaching can be hard. Teaching can be fun. Teaching can be draining, BUT teaching is also the most incredibly rewarding career on the planet. Knowing all of these things, why hadn’t I asked the questions I knew I needed answers to years ago? Perhaps I had not stepped into a courageous place in my journey. Maybe I wasn’t in the mental place to understand that failure could be an asset, an opportunity to learn or try something new. Perhaps I didn’t have the patience to refine my practices, iterate, fail, and improve. Perhaps I didn’t realize that although setbacks can be discouraging, they are only temporary. Maybe I didn’t realize that if I was doing my best, I could still be proud of my choices.
Last week I had a check in with a new teacher. When I walked into her classroom I could feel the newness of her learning ecosystem surrounding me. As I waited for her to finish up a few conversations with students, I walked around and scanned the landscape of the room. I could feel the learning emanating through her classroom walls and the energy of her kindness and enthusiasm for learning permeating into my heart. At the same time, I noticed that she had pulled up a seat next to a student who was feeling defeated. “What is making you feel this way? What can I do to help?” A new teacher was asking a student questions to build connection and get him to a more comfortable place. When she was finished I invited her to sit next to me at a small round table. I started to ask the teacher some open-ended questions, “What’s going well? What barriers may be getting in the way of your growth?” She led with this answer, Lauren, I just need to say that I love it here. I really love it, Lauren. When I have questions, I know I can go to my colleagues for support. This new teacher had surpassed the place I was at the beginning of my career and right then, I knew she was rowing in a direction towards success. This answer made my face light up and smile so big that my cheeks started hurting. I went on to ask “What questions do you have for me?”
When I stepped into the newness of leadership, I stopped thinking about the way things are supposed to be and stopped trying to work towards a place of perfection. The pathway to the outcomes you are searching for are not always linear. Sometimes standing still in newness is the best way to move forward. Finding the courage to ask questions may be the action needed to harness momentum towards the place you want to be.
There are so many beautiful things about being an educator. Being an educator is not just something you do. It’s a calling, it’s a gift, it’s an opportunity to leave a legacy of kindness and love in the hearts and minds of those you serve. As an educator, you move through your career living in moments, snapshots in time that turn into stories. You navigate your own personal journey opening paths to self-discovery, learning, and growth that can ultimately bring well-deserved joy and happiness to your life’s work. Perhaps, at one time, your path in education led you to a crossroads and you chose to step into the direction of leadership. As you began walking a new path, you started leaning into the experiences you invited and those you couldn’t foresee, but would later become lessons you’ve learned. – Lauren
As a 7th grade ELA teacher, I was a part of the building leadership team. I was enjoying the opportunity to learn more about change leadership and to make a positive impact on the broader school community. At the end of one of our meetings, I was packing up my many belongings, so I was the last teacher remaining alongside the principal. Anyone who has ever joined me for a meeting knows that I can be a little extra with all of my supplies. Notebooks, books I’m reading, my water, a coffee I’m still finishing, snacks, laptop…I cannot hide it. Anyway, the principal and I were enjoying a nice post-meeting conversation which led her to ask me, “You should really think about getting your principal’s license.” I should have paused before responding because I had a visceral reaction. “Why would I want your job? Your job looks terrible.” Eek, but I think what I really meant was that the job looked HARD. And it is hard, but it’s also rewarding and growth-evoking. Administration has challenged and humbled me and continues to do so on a daily basis. It’s perspective giving in the best possible way and when we do our inner work as leaders, we grow leaps and bounds alongside the talented educators we serve. – Meghan
I thought I would retire in the last district I served in. It was close to where I live, a district I loved, a place I called home. However, I knew in my heart that it would not be the place I would serve as an administrator. I remember the day I realized that I needed to move on so I can grow into the leader and educator I was meant to become. After going through a handful of interview processes, it happened, I was offered an assistant principal’s role in the right place, at the right time, with the people I was destined to know. I was set to embark on this new endeavor in the middle of the summer. So, on a hot summer’s end of July day, it would be the last time I’d use my ID fob to enter a building in a district I adored for so long. It’s where I evolved as an instructional coach and reading specialist. That day, I filled 15 boxes with treasured stories from my teaching past. I looked around an empty classroom, only leaving behind the books that belonged to the school. When I was ready to go, I peeked my head out of the door to look for a custodian to help me find a flatbed to lift and stack my boxes and bring them to my car. Oddly, there was no one in sight. After a brief search, I found a flatbed myself. I can remember closing my eyes, taking a deep breath and putting my airpods into my ears because to me, what is life without music, especially during a pivotal moment like this? At that moment, my ITunes randomly played the song “High Hopes” by Panic! at the Disco. It seemed fitting, the perfect song selection for the symbolic transition from teaching to leadership. I tied back my hair, loaded my boxes onto the flatbed, and as sweat dripped from my brow, I began pulling out this big, heavy flatbed wagon to my car. When I got there, I opened my trunk, pushed down all the seats and lifted each box, one by one, finally filling my trunk to the brim. I took a picture to capture the moment, the end of an era. When I drove off that day, I thought about all of the small moments in time that led me to this new opportunity in leadership. I thought about some of the lessons I’d learned from leaders, colleagues, and students. I thought about the happiness, the joy, the laughter, the comradery of teachers, some sadness and disappointment, the evolution of me, and all the small moves of impact that brought me to this place in time. It would be the very next day that I would pull up to a new building, my new home, where I was greeted by a friendly custodian. He met me by my car and helped me unload my trunk of boxes, the treasured stories of the educator I was. It was his genuine smile that would give me the courage I needed to retrieve my new ID fob from my bag to swipe a new door, and step towards the unforeseen lessons I would begin to learn and the path to the leader I hoped to become. – Lauren
Perhaps it’s our social media immersed culture, but there seems to be a pervasive belief that the things worth doing and worth having are the big, audacious moves and gestures. But often, when we see people accomplishing what we perceive to be “big, important stuff”, we aren’t seeing all of the little moves and setbacks and lessons learned that got them to that really impressive place. We don’t see all of the free throws college and professional basketball players shoot in practice or their late nights in the gym. We don’t see those lessons that flopped by teachers we deeply admire. We don’t see that professional development session that didn’t go as planned. You get it. This is why it’s critical we speak more honestly about our work. That we don’t make this work something that only perfect people do. There are no perfect people, and the more we only share our shiny selves and the highlight reels and the romanticized storybook versions of our work, the more likely it becomes that other people may start to believe that leadership is something that is beyond them. The world doesn’t need more people who look perfect leading classrooms, schools, and districts. The world needs more learners who model humanity for others. People who are deeply curious about themselves, others, the world around them. Many of us have taken the Strengths Finder 2.0. I’ve taken it a couple of times. Once as a classroom teacher and once as an assistant principal. One of my top five strengths changed with experience. As a teacher, “positivity” was in my top 5. As an administrator, I morphed from positive to “relatable.” Ha! That used to bother me, but I’ve come to embrace it. I’m learning to be deeply human with other people. I share mistakes and struggles when appropriate and in doing so, it makes me feel more connected while opening the door to learn from others too. – Meghan
This year, I embarked on a new role as the Director of Literacy K-12. As I created my entry plan for this new role, a big portion of it revolves around cultivating meaningful relationships with the administrators, teachers, staff, and community I am serving. To me, in the midst of all the meetings, observations, big things, and learning I need to do, this means that I put showing up to buildings at the forefront as much as I can. Greeting teachers, saying hello to kids in the hallways, asking kids what literacy means to them, what they are most proud of as readers and writers today, what books they enjoy, and how their day is going is essential to the work I do everyday. When I leave classrooms, I feel it’s important to email or send a voice note to let the teachers know how much I appreciated our time together. One of my favorite things to do is to walk around the primary and elementary buildings with a picture book in my hands. Very often, teachers and students will ask me what book I am holding, igniting a conversation that may have never happened if I hadn’t been holding one! Those conversations have led to invitations to classroom visits to perform read alouds with kids and teachers. To me, there is nothing better than showing up to that classroom, sitting myself down on the rug with the kids surrounding me and bringing a book to life through an interactive experience! I know there will always be the big things that need to get done. Literacy is the foundation of all learning. It is also a hot button topic and instructional approaches will always need refining to meet the needs of all learners in the evolving landscape of education. What I have come to learn overtime is that although there will always be the big things, it’s those small moves like showing up, saying hello, asking “How are you?” and really meaning it, sending the check-in text to a teacher, and reading a good book that contributes to making the big things happen. These are lessons I’m learning that are shaping who I’m becoming as a leader. You may begin to recognize that if you want true happiness in leadership, you may have to sacrifice what you want now for what you want later. You have a mission and a vision and as you row toward the ultimate destination of success, there will be small moments, small wins, and small obstacles on the path that can seem like they are not enough to bring a vision to fruition. You will come to realize that those small things can add up to the big things you truly need to accomplish. -Lauren
I learned to think in small moves as an elementary principal. I would dream of big, grand gestures I could use to surprise and delight staff and to show my appreciation. But I learned pretty quickly that what mattered most was the day-to-day small moves. Visiting classrooms every day, greeting students as they walked into school, coming alongside teachers at lunch duty, and playing with students at recess. In these small moments of shared joy and learning, we had little conversations. Conversations about teaching and learning. Moments of appreciation for each other. We celebrated when a student who had been struggling had a great day in the classroom. I look back at those little moments and realize they were not little at all. They were the big stuff. It doesn’t look big when you’re in it, but the collective impact that those moments make is monumental. Those are the moments that transform a school culture. They transform a district’s culture too. As a Director of Secondary Teaching and Learning, I keep my office in a backpack. Certainly, I have an office at the district office, but I choose to spend 99% of my time in the buildings. Proximity builds trust. The work feels better when we feel better in the work, and I feel best in the work when I’m wearing my sneakers, my sleeves are rolled up, and I’m working alongside people in the day-to-day challenges we face. Every moment matters. Every conversation is a coaching conversation. Every person we come into contact with can teach us something. And honestly, when you are all-in in that way on a daily basis, it is not only incredibly rewarding, it’s also incredibly exhausting in the best possible way. It’s normal not to have the energy for big gestures…not that those don’t matter…not that you never go big…but keep the main things the main thing. Staff and students will remember those little moments and be more deeply impacted by those than that one big breakfast you pulled off. No matter how much they love bacon. And boy do I ever. – Meghan
Should be easy, right? We are, after all, human. It is critical we model what it looks like to be a learner. This means making mistakes, doing things imperfectly, struggling – and all the while learning from all of that and allowing it to make us better people and professionals. The more “power” we have in the organization, the more critical this move can be because students and staff are watching us. Many of them are wondering if they too might step into roles like ours, and it’s important we show them that there are no perfect people. There are merely willing people who care deeply. We can show them how fun these jobs can be too. We can show them what it looks like to ask for feedback and to genuinely consider it. The “higher up” we go in leadership roles, the less honest people tend to be with us. Not because they don’t want to be honest but because it can be scary giving critical feedback to someone with authority “over us.” So, we must normalize feedback. We must normalize being imperfect people who do things imperfectly but who are listening and trying. Speaking of listening…
If you are an approachable leader, educators will show up to your door or open theirs to talk to you. That’s an amazing thing! Listen attentively to people. They have come to you for a reason and want you to know what is on their hearts and minds. Let them talk as much as they need to. It’s important. I am not going to lie, there are times I want to jump in and interrupt a teacher as they are talking because I get passionately excited about an idea or I want to give in-the-moment advice. However, I have found that if you listen a little longer, you will begin to hear a narrative that leads you to the heart of what the conversation is really about. What a person initially came to you for, really could turn out to be about something else. And a lot of the time, what appears to be a problem, naturally gets worked out as that person self-reflects and develops their own solutions. Be the active listener and the sounding board that person needs.
Recognize the Potential in Others
Recently, my superintendent (Lauren) shared an ASCD article with me titled Every Student is a Firecracker by Jen Schwanke; she tells a heartwarming story about how she didn’t have it easy growing up. She discovers that through the obstacle of poverty, it was her teachers who elevated her by providing the hope, dignity, support, and trust she needed to thrive. Those small gestures inspired her to become an educator. She shared these words, “Educators can help in ways that are quiet, careful, and gentle.” Obstacles can carve paths to new opportunities. There is a spark inside us all. Children and adults just need someone to ignite it…it just takes one person. Be the leader who lifts your colleagues up so they can bring out the best in their students.
Proximity Builds Trust
Schools and districts are rarely transformed from desks with closed doors. Every interaction is an opportunity to both learn from and be of service to someone else. The more we are around each other, the more we will trust each other. Being around each other also gives us more opportunities to truly appreciate the unique gifts and talents others bring to our schools. This is why it’s incredibly frustrating for teachers when they are evaluated on small 30 minute lessons. There is so much more that goes into teaching that cannot be captured in that amount of time. When we spend time supporting and encouraging teachers in classrooms every week, we get a much fuller picture of the impactful work they are doing with students on a daily basis. Not to mention, so many little conversations and little interactions are opportunities to problem solve and work through things together. Less email. More small conversations.
Will Guidara, author of Unreasonable Hospitality, was able to turn 11 Madison Park into the #1 restaurant in the world. He did so not by making the most unique food in the world or creating the most fancy of restaurants. He did it by tapping into a human need we have that will hold true until the end of time. The need to be well-cared for. So much of excellent leadership is not revolutionary. However, in a world filled with busy and in a time of so many initiatives and high pressure, taking great care of others can feel revolutionary. In this new year, may we all reflect upon how we can do less of what doesn’t matter as much, so we can do more of what matters most. In doing so, the work gets better and so do we. – Meghan
Meghan is a lover of learning who believes in the goodness of people, Meghan works to cultivate necessary space that honors the humanity of all people. She promotes storytelling, the exchange of ideas, and risk-taking. She is passionate about disrupting the status quo and creating kinder, forward-thinking communities of action. Meghan is also intensely curious about how to enhance the customer experience in schools. Meghan began her career in the English Language Arts classroom. So, inevitably, her mantra is Words Matter. In her nineteen years in the field of education, she has worked in all levels of K-12 education as a teacher, school administrator, district administrator, and educational consultant.