Teachers are Leaders

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. S/he is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.” 
-Ronald Reagan

I am an avid collector of quotations about leadership. Over the years, I came upon a realization: nearly every single quote about leaders and leadership that I have collected over the years makes just as much sense if one were to replace the word "leader" with "teacher" or "leadership" with "teaching." As but one example, try it with the Reagan quote above (while also, perhaps, replacing "People" with "Students"). Here are a few final quotes originally about leadership, but which also prove interchangeable with teaching:

  • As a leader (teacher), your principal job is to create an operating environment where others can do great things.
  • No person can be a great leader (teacher) unless he takes genuine joy in the successes of those under him.
  • good leader (teacher) inspires others with confidence in him; a great leader (teacher) inspires them with confidence in themselves.
  • Leadership (Teaching) is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.

Teachers play many roles within--and outside--the classrooms of our schools. Chief among them? Their role as leaders of the young people with whom they interact every day over the course of a semester or school year. Of course, our very best teachers lead in a variety of ways and lead not only their students, but others with whom they interact.

First and foremost, teachers lead in their classrooms. They lead my modeling, by speaking, by listening, by demonstrating trust and expecting it in return. They lead by setting high expectations for their students--but even higher expectations for themselves. They lead by taking risks with their students, letting them know it is important to try new things and that failure is an important part of learning. They lead by creating a "culture of caring" in their classrooms, and by engaging, inspiring, and empowering the students they teach each and every day. They lead by giving their students the gift of confidence. They lead by doing but, more importantly, by being. Teachers are leaders.

Great teachers also find ways to lead outside their own classroom, often in the form of helping their colleagues grow and learn. They lead by coaching, listening, and inviting fellow teachers into their classrooms. They lead by mentoring a new teacher, teaching a professional learning session, and developing both collegial and collaborative relationships with all staff members at their schools. When a fellow teacher experiences a personal loss or tragedy, they lead by offering support and compassion. They lead by finding the good in the work they are doing and the people with whom they are doing it. They lead by giving their colleagues the gift of confidence. They lead by doing but, more importantly, by being. Teachers are leaders.

Finally, teachers are constantly finding new ways to lead themselves. Great teachers are constantly seeking out new ways to learn and grow. They lead themselves by staying current with research and literature about their profession. They lead in this way by taking classes or earning advanced degrees. They lead themselves by trying things that are outside their comfort zone if they think it will improve their students' learning. They lead themselves by reflecting, by remaining curious, by staying positive, by knowing that what they do makes a difference. They lead by giving themselves the gift of confidence. Teachers lead by doing but, more importantly, by being. Teachers are leaders.

Expectations for teachers seem to grow annually--if not daily. The duties and responsibilities for which we hold teachers accountable are vast and multifarious. It is hard work to be sure--but no other job I know of comes with as many concomitant rewards. As we approach the start of another new school year, a shout out to the teachers--and leaders--of our nation's future leaders.

3 Worth Reading:

1. 9 Reasons Great Teachers Make Great Leaders by Deborah Chang:

2. 10 Roles for Teacher Leaders by Cindy Harrison and Joellen Killion

3. Are Teachers Really Leaders in Disguise? by Ronald E. Riggio

Change Is Good...You Go First!

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
-George Bernard Shaw

I stole the title of this week's post from one of my favorite videos produced by the folks at Simple Truths. At first glance, it does not have that much to do with change, but it is filled with excellent quotes about leadership and as leaders we must often serve as change agents in our schools. This fun video is only three minutes in length and worth a watch. 

In our profession, change is pretty much a constant, yet I recently found myself thinking about change not at school, but during our annual 4th of July Fireworks celebration. For the past six years, I have had the good fortune to live in Lake Forest, Illinois, one of the prettiest small cities anywhere.

Each July 4, we have a huge celebration in the fields behind the middle school, culminating in a spectacular fireworks display.While waiting for the fireworks, residents bring food, drinks, chairs, blankets and listen to a band. This year, we hosted two bands, 10,000 Maniacs followed by Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Having done the exact same thing for six years, I walked in and made a beeline for my usual spot--the far southwest corner near the stage, completely oblivious to a major change the folks in charge had made--without even consulting me, I might add. Someone with me stopped me and said, "Hey, the stage is over there this year," pointing to the far southeastern corner of the field. Now, this is a bit crazy, but I found myself getting upset: Why did they mess with a good thing? I liked the way it was set up the past six years; it always worked well enough, so why change now? Is getting out at the end of the night going to be even more of a hassle with this new set up? I simply did not get it: the stage was ALWAYS over there and I knew right where MY SPOT on the field was. Reluctantly, I trudged to the other side of the field and set up camp over there, grumbling all the way.

It was not long before I realized two things: First, it became evident that the new set up had several benefits over the previous iteration. The stage was constructed on a small hill providing better sound and visibility. It was closer to the parks and rec building for easy access to indoor spaces and utilities. It faced the audience at a better angle, allowing more in the audience to have a clear view of the stage. Secondly--and inexplicably--I realized I was still a bit upset about the new setup, at least for the first hour or so, even though I clearly saw the benefits. There was absolutely no legitimate reason to justify my mild irritation; from what I could tell, everything about the new set up was a slight improvement over the previous model. The only reason for my irritation was that this new set up was different; it was not the one I was used to.

Change is funny like that, whether it is a change in a holiday celebration or a change in the way we do something in our schools. Sometimes, even when the change is clearly a change for the better, we feel discomfort and a sense of loss. We may eventually even acknowledge that the change is an improvement, yet still feel a bit disgruntled since the old way worked pretty well, too. And even though the change may be better in most ways, we can always find something in the old way that was better (in the case of our 4th of July celebration, I noted that I had to walk about fifty yards further to get to the restrooms than I had to with the previous arrangement). 
As I drove home that night, I found myself sheepishly chucking at my own resistance to change when--so often--I find myself advocating for changes in our profession. A few takeaways I reflected on:

1. When initiating change, we first have to determine with as much certainty as possible that the change we are undertaking will improve the status quo. If we cannot, we should proceed with great caution.

2. After initiating the change, we must calmly and reasonably monitor the results and survey our community members to see if the change is working and being accepted as an improvement compared to the previous way. If it is better, we press on; if not, we either revert back to the old or tweak the new yet again to ensure we have the best model we can create.

3. Even when change is overwhelmingly positive, we must accept that change can be difficult to accept and we are likely disturbing the comfort level of many. Very seldom do we find the majority of people in any organization when faced with change, standing up and volunteering to go first. Instead, they may think the change is good....and still want someone else to go first.

4. If the change is clearly proven to be working with better results and we still have some in the community who are complaining about the change, we need to again communicate clearly with these individuals why we changed, what the change has allowed us to do, and, finally, have respectful, but very direct and honest conversations with anyone still unwilling to accept the changes, letting them know the changes are here to stay.

When I first walked into our annual 4th of July celebration and finally noticed the big change, I was a bit angry. If you had asked me at that moment, I would have voted for the change to be reversed in favor of the old system. After taking it all in and reflecting on the pros and cons, I had to admit it: this change was good--once I finally changed my mind!

3 Worth Reading:

1. 5 Ways To Influence Change by George Couros

2. Leading Change by David Steward

Making a Living; Making a Life

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
Winston Churchill

Recently, I co-wrote a blog post with Barry Saide that was published on Peter Dewitt's "Finding Common Ground" column in Education Week. In our post, Barry and I wrote about the power of investing in others, in freely giving of our time and attention to others with whom we interact professionally. Sometimes, these interactions take place in the schools where we spend the bulk of our days; other times, these interactions happen virtually, often with people we have never even met face-to-face. Whatever the situation, I am often reminded of just how much I have been given through these interactions and the need to do whatever I can to return the favor whenever possible. Each time I have made an investment of any kind in the life of a fellow educator, I have done so without thinking about getting anything back in return; however, it seems that each time I have done this, what I have received in return ends up being much greater than what I originally invested.

In thinking about the topic of giving to and investing in others--and, ultimately, writing the piece with Barry--I reflected on the incredible impact my Personal Learning Network (PLN) has had on me since I first made the decision to become connected with other educators via Twitter just over three years ago. The lengths to which people have gone in an effort to support me professionally and personally are beyond belief and a topic to be more fully fleshed out in a post for another day. People who I first connected with simply as one educator reaching out to another in an effort to become a better at what I do have turned into personal lifelong friends who I value dearly. While it is true that I have become a better teacher, learner, and leader because of my PLN, it is also true--and more important--that I have become a better human being because of the relationships formed with many members of my PLN.

Like everyone who has seen their learning and growth increase exponentially after becoming connected with a PLN via Twitter, I can list a hundred or more examples of how some member of my learning network has come to my aid in a time of professional or personal need. My gratitude in each instance has been profound and not something I take for granted. Each time I receive support, advice, and encouragement from a PLN member, it reminds me to pay it forward by looking for ways to invest in others. This is something that Barry Saide and I spoke of when we met in person at EduCon in Philadelphia. To this day, it is the only time we actually met in person and our meeting was a very brief one at that. However, we have kept in contact since then, speaking via phone, Skyping, emailing, and communicating via Twitter. At first glance, you might say we have very little in common: Barry lives in New Jersey; I live over 800 miles away in Chicago. He currently teaches 5th grade; I am an Assistant Superintendent. He is a young man; I am a geezer! What we do have in common, however, is a sincere appreciation for everyone who has taken time to invest in us and our desire, in turn, to pay this investment forward to others in our noble profession of education.

As educators, we are in a giving profession. We invest in the students we serve on a daily basis without giving this a second thought. It is almost as important, however, to invest in our colleagues; the more we do so, the better we each become--and the better it will be for our primary customers: our students. A you spend time this summer reflecting on the school year recently completed, I hope you will take time to think about ways you can invest in your colleagues, whether they work down the hall from you or in another continent; this investment will make a difference in their life--and your own.

3 Worth Reading:

1. The Power of Investing in Others by Kent Ingle

2. Personal Learning Networks for Educators: 10 Tips by Mark Wagner

3. Effort In = Reward Out by Lyn Hilt

Cultures of Excellence

“ Culture is what enables teams of people to defy the odds and achieve the remarkable. ”  from the NfX Company Culture Manual “Culture”...