Philosophy of Leadership
I do not come to leadership lightly. I understand that school leaders are in the tremendous position of influencing the cultural, mental, social, emotional, and physical capacities of our future citizens. It is a sobering and exhilarating thought. Add to that the responsibility to staff, parents, and community and one begins to realize the immensity of the job. Being a school leader is serious business.
In all honesty, I am not sure what form my leadership will take. However, I am increasingly clear on what I value in myself and in leadership.
Currently, I teach. I have 120 seventh-graders. I teach language arts at a traditional school, on an outdated campus, with florescent lights and asbestos-tiled classrooms. We have 45 minute class periods marked by an obnoxiously loud bell, a 23 minute lunch with no hot food served, and… we have a uniform policy that requires belts and tucked shirts. The best compliment I ever received from a student?
“Ms. Evans, your room is always so…comfortable.”
My students are humans and I treat them as such. We are individuals working together. We make mistakes and learn from them. We overcome difficulties and strive to become better people. The ultimate achievement in my room? Being on “D Level” behavior: doing the right thing even when nobody notices. I accept my students; they find comfort in my room.
This is what inspires me to lead: my students. If I have any sort of knack for creating comfort out of the madness we call “education” then I must lead. Without consciously seeking it, I am always in leadership roles at my school. I like solving problems and, heaven knows, there are plenty of challenges to address. However, like a pebble dropped in water, the heart of school leadership is centered first with students, then ripples out to staff and beyond.
This year, I have accepted the role of Lead Mentor for our 1st and 2nd year teachers going through the BTSA program. During the first meeting, one of my “mentees” jokingly bowed like a student in a kung fu movie and said to me,
I know he was kidding around, but I flushed with honor at the title. A mentor is not an iron-fisted leader, but a trusted guide. It is truly an honor to lead through mentorship.
With 9 mentees it is not possible for me to address all their needs and questions, so instead I strive to help them help each other too. I am learning how to empower them so that they become stronger without relying on my support. I am learning to ask more questions than answer, to delegate efforts, and to bend to the needs and passions of my peers. To me, mentorship is about flexibly weaving outside pressures and requirements with the passions and wisdom of each individual. Often, it is about unscripted encouragement, empathy, or advocacy. As a mentor and leader, my job is to enhance those around me.
Looking forward, I can envision my leadership role expanding beyond my classroom or BTSA meetings to students, staff, and community–what I think of as a school’s Team. I know the practice and growth I’m gaining as a Lead Mentor will serve me well as I seek to nurture others. As an unknown author once said:
“A good leader inspires others with confidence in [her];
a great leader inspires them with confidence in themselves.”
This is how I want to lead. The key to developing confidence and trust is establishing and maintaining an environment of security. Of course, this means the bare minimum of physical safety and functional facilities. However, these alone do not create a school worth leading. The security I seek has to do with belonging and being heard. This is the less tangible dimension of emotional security: trust, respect, inclusion, support, and guidance. With these “soft” tools in play, a Team could overcome the setbacks of physical danger or dysfunctional facilities; I think we have all seen a fair number of movies inspired by such true life scenarios. No one, however, is making inspirational movies about physically safe, highly functional facilities filled with disrespectful, exclusionary, chaotic individuals.
It is easy enough to write about the importance of emotional security and much more complex to put it in action. There are a few guidelines I believe are critical:
Be Human–When I am in a leadership role, I don’t want to be seen as “separate” from my Team. I think it is important for them to see that I feel frustrated, make mistakes, misunderstand, dream big, and have a life off campus. Likewise, I must remember and value that my Team is made of humans who, too, feel frustrated, make mistakes, misunderstand, dream big, and have a life off campus. Communication and actions should strive to be humane.
Be a Learner–How often I have been at professional development for teachers where the very advice we are supposed to use in class is not followed by the presenter. “Teach with visuals!” they lecture. “Teach in small chunks!” they ramble for the third hour. A goal I have is to remain the kind of passionate, life-long learner I hope our students are becoming…and to expect the same of the adult members of the Team. To achieve this, I encourage reflection, risk-taking, collaboration, new ideas, and honest feedback.
Be a Listener–I don’t have a crystal ball or magic wand. I can’t read minds or puppet-master others. I can listen. Really listen. Then, I can think, reflect, and guide. Ideally, I will listen more than speak–something of a personal challenge for me
I do not come to leadership lightly. I am not sure where I am headed with it. Sometimes, it intimidates me. In many ways the seven years I have been in education have been like the seven years I played soccer as a child: Starting in kindergarden, I faithfully attended practices, ran laps, devised drills to practice at home, and cheered on my teammates. During games, I ran like a gazelle, up and down the field until my face was bright red. I was a great supporter. From the sidelines, my mom would call, “Kick the ball, Karen, kick the ball!” But, I could probably count on my toes the number of times I actually kicked the ball during a game. I was too afraid of making a mistake, not being good enough, or not knowing what to do next, so I made sure other girls made it to the ball first.
Now, “kick the ball” has become a little code between my mom and I. Whenever I am bogged down in the what ifs, maybes, and yeah-buts of life my mom will remind me to
“Kick the ball.”
I think this is brilliant leadership code too. Often times, no one else is going to get that ball rolling. In many cases, the ball seems headed toward the wrong goal. Sometimes the Team will work together and other times a leader is going to have to take risks. If I am going to put the effort into running up and down the field of education, I best be a full member of the team. Wherever my leadership journey may take me, I am ready to kick the ball.