Who Will Follow You To the Challenge _

“Who will follow you to the challenge?” I was recently asked this question and it rocked me to my core. There isn’t anything easy about being an educator. Each day we are faced with new challenges and small feats to conquer. Leaders are asked to do more with less and to become more innovative and creative every day. In many ways, leadership is like teaching. They are both very personal things. The very personalized way in which we work is often why it is hard to receive criticism about our practice. However, without criticism and reflection, how will we improve? I’ve always believed the great quote by Parker Palmer to be true, “You teach who you are.” So in this comparison between teaching and leading, wouldn’t the same be true of leadership. In thinking about this, how do we take who we are– the great and the not so great and mold it into something that people (teacher, students, parents, and the like) will follow to the challenge?

I was pushed to examine myself-my practices, actions, and behaviors. What about those things would cause someone to follow or not follow me to the challenge? Hopefully, my personal reflection will serve to help someone else.

There are plenty of studies which indicate that one of the most significant factors in student success is the teacher. “The principal is second only to the teacher in terms of impact on student learning”(Leithwood, Seashore Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004, p. 5). With that being said, why don’t we value teachers more? In my reflection, I began to think about the teachers I serve. As a leader, it is not enough to be professional and knowledgeable. To truly be a great leader, you must also inspire and build trust. If I were rating myself at these two aspects of leadership, would I be proficient or accomplished? What I found, I didn’t like. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but I found a renewed commitment to relationship and trust building. I decided that there would never be a meeting with my staff that I didn’t do two things.

  1. Get to Know Them – Many people do this by asking the staff at the start of a meeting for celebrations and accomplishments. This month, I chose to use a protocol. The Fortune Cookie protocol (www.nsrfharmony.org/system/files/protocols/fortune_cookie_0.pdf ) was shared with me at the NCPDK Emerging Leaders Conference by Dr. Donna Peters. It was a great way for the staff to share and begin our time together. This is just one of many ways leaders and staff can get to know one another.
  2. Celebrate Them – We’ve all heard the phrase, “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The same is true of teachers. There are several ways to show that you care. I bought the book 100+ Ways to Recognize and Reward Your Staff (http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/One-Hundred-Plus-Ways-to-Recognize-and-Reward-Your-School-Staff.aspx), but you can also find plenty of ideas on the web. This can be done with inexpensive options like hand written notes or more grandiose options like whole staff dinners. I decided to recognize two staff members each month by presenting them with candles to symbolize The Light They Shine in the Lives of Our Students.

There is no end to the leadership journey. The journey to great leadership requires collaborative practice and sharing. Feel free to respond with other ideas below, tweet, and share. I hope these thoughts and reflections are a spark for someone else on their journey.