We are always being asked to find the leader within us. We lead our classrooms, our schools, our communities, and our homes. What about the leaders in our lives? Over the years, I have learned that a good leader is everything. The leadership around you sets the culture and motivation for everyone in the building.
GREAT LEADERS KEEP STUDENTS IN MIND – One of my favorite administrators always had the question to follow the question. “What is best for students?” We all knew in meetings when debate arose that this question would help regain focus on why we were there. When I was torn between one option or another, this question helped me think clearer. Knowing that teaching is about the students should always be at the forefront of our mind, but sometimes our vision gets blurred and they appear as subjects, standards, and deadlines instead. On my first day of my teaching career, Mr. McClure gave me the book, Discipline with Dignity. He knew that my students would need a teacher who loved children through the learning process, and first year teachers tended to struggle with behavior in their first year. By being proactive rather than reactive, he made himself someone that I often went to for guidance as a teacher.
LEARN YOUR STRENGTHS AND LOOK FOR WAYS TO HELP YOU GROW – Although I taught all subjects, I gained recognition as a strong math teacher. I always looked for ways to relate it to other subjects and the real world. As we adopted Common Core, I noticed students catching on and sustaining math practices like never before. I found myself defending and explaining the core around my community and other professionals. Knowing this, my administrator signed me up for Math Foundations. She knew that I had the “how,” but the “why” was more difficult to articulate. Although I consider myself a very motivated person, I have always found it helpful when the leaders around me help guide and inspire me to push my comfort zone. With out a good leader, risk taking can get stifled. When applying to be a part of the North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network, I had to ask permission from my administrator. She knew that the partnership with this cohort would help me as a learner and benefit our staff and students. I am forever thankful.
SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO – School systems can have quite a bit of red tape. Red tape makes it difficult for teachers to take risks and try new things. I remember bringing an idea to my administrator. She received a, “No.” I recall stopping in over and over again. She would say, I still have a no…”but I just haven’t asked the question the right way.” Eventually we got a YES. Honestly, I can’t even remember the red tape she was cutting for us, but I do remember the time and endurance she had taking care of it. Good leaders do this all of the time. Red tape will always be there, unfortunately. A good leader can advocate for you to move past it towards what is best for students.
SEEK EXCELLENCE IN HIRING – This is a big one. Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have been hired by the leaders in my life past and present. There is a teacher shortage, but does that mean we should lower our standards? The answer is a simple NO. We should seek teachers who not only love teaching, but those who think forward for schools and students. I remember being hungry for each job I’ve applied for. Every day I work to prove my worth to my students, colleagues, community, and leaders around me.
APPRECIATE TRUTH – Somewhere along the way, our culture has created a mindset where others are encouraged to be less than honest when a mistake is made. A good leader appreciates the truth. A good leader notices the effort it takes to set pride asides and admit mistakes. We all make them and good leaders appreciate good old fashioned honesty. When that honesty is present, the culture of a school is more positive and progressive. When teachers are not afraid to admit truth to their leaders, they are more likely to teach honesty to their students.
FEED THEIR PEOPLE – I could go into the metaphorical “feeding,” but you already know about that. A good leader knows how to get the food to the table. Some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with colleagues and leaders are over food. Whether it be a celebration meal or a meal in the workday, food always serves as a catalyst for a culture of caring. Our PAC, a parent group, brings us freshly popped popcorn every Wednesday. Everyone looks forward to it. Recognizing and providing one of our most basic needs as humans brings us all together for good. I fondly remember meals provided by Dr. Sharon Ritchie with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and FirstSchool. When we traveled to Chapel Hill, she frequently invited us to her home for dinner the night before. I remember thinking, “This lady is a national leader in education and she making me a pot roast.” We had some of the best conversations about student learning and schools over those meals. They were never hurried and always appreciated.
REMEMBER, WE ARE ALL HUMAN – Every good leader seeks ways to identify with others. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. I tell my students is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Mistakes are how we learn. Great leaders know and recognize that those around them have lives outside of the classroom. Great leaders understand that life happens, and we are all a part of it. Last year, my family was hit hard with a job loss. This was devastating. My administrators were so supportive during this time. They offered support and encouragement when they noticed me at my wit’s end or looking a little on the tired side. I will never forget them. Not only are we all human, we are all family.
KNOW HOW TO HAVE A LITTLE FUN – I couldn’t end a blog without this one. Good leaders are not always uptight. Good leaders know how to show their fun side. It is easy for us to put them on pedestals themselves and forget their humanity. I remember someone suggesting her concerns about being “friendly” with others working for her. In my opinion, that could not be further from the truth. When others collaborate and solve the world’s problems together, friendships form. Whether it be jamming out, in the dunk tank, dressed like a turkey, or laughing at ourselves these incredible leaders know the importance of work and balance. My husband, a great leader himself, used to say to his employees, “Work hard, play hard.” The greatest leaders I know have found a good balance with this, and have stained the greatest memories in my brain.
Most of these attributes were followed by examples of administration. They also apply to so many more leaders in my schools, church, county, and state. There are even great leaders that I look up to in my PLN. I’ve found that I gravitate to leaders and learning experiences. Thank you for giving me time to reflect on their best qualities.
Only two names are mentioned in this blog entry. This is simply because so many of them have these attributes and there were names that you would see over and over and over again. You know who you are. 😉 Consider yourself appreciated.
What are great attributes that you have noticed in the leaders around you?
What are leadership styles you are most successful with?
Which of these attributes could you work on as a leader?