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.