Finding Leaders (or Unicorns?)

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Note: this blog was originally published in April of 2016. I have updated it in February of 2017 as part of the #EduBloggersClub challenge.

This week's #EduBloggersClub challenge is to write about #Challenges. Now, for the past week I have been living with challenges as my school has been in the final countdown to our accreditation visit. But I have chosen NOT to focus on the plethora of topics that could provide.  Instead, I have opted to update and re-post an older blog that I wrote about a challenge I consider critical to our field: the Leadership Challenge...

How many times a week do people say to you  in a conversation "I'm so glad I don't have your job!"?  I have heard this a lot.  I honestly don't know if I am hearing it more than in the past, but I am certainly noticing it more.  So I started asking people: "Why do you say that?" and typically the answer I get is something along the lines of "I don't want to deal with all the stuff you do."  Hmmm.  What is this "stuff" of which they speak that is so different from what they do in their classroom?  I filed that question away and from time to time I would pull it out and think about it, without ever really coming to a conclusion or taking it too seriously.  I mean, after all, we all know people in jobs that we can say "I'm glad I don't have your job!" (For example, I would never want to be a high-rise construction worker.)  And there are lots of things that teachers have to deal with in the classroom every day that are frustrating--the 4th straight day Amy didn't do her homework, the 2nd fight you had to break up that week, the angry parent emails fielded get the picture.  This is really no different from what happens in a leader's office, but for some reason many people think they are separate worlds.  Perhaps an individual classroom seems more contained.  More "fixable" than problems and concerns that are brought to "the Principal's office." When I think back to my time in the classroom, I often viewed my class as my little kingdom where I was in charge.  As long as my students and parents understood my expectations, all was good.  As an administrator however, there is more at stake.  It isn't just my US History class.  Now my decisions impact the entire school. It is much more challenging to keep all of the students and parents satisfied. So perhaps this is one of the key issues for those who say: "I'm glad I don't have your job!"

And then I attended back-to-back conferences that made me realize this isn't just a question that I am asking.  And it has become important to find an answer to this question rather than simply speculate about what might be holding others back from pursuing leadership.  What changed and gave me a greater sense of urgency around this question?  First, I sat in a session at the Annual CUE Conference that was led by Amy Fadeji.  In that session, she commented that no one wants our jobs (meaning school leaders).  That was my first "a ha!" that my experiences weren't isolated.  A week and a half later, I was at the annual NCEA conference where there were a number of sessions over the three days focused on identifying and nurturing the next generation of leaders for our schools.  I went to most of those sessions and they were all packed.  Wow!  This is definitely a shared problem, not just a question in passing.  That was when it really hit me: if we don't make our jobs accessible, there won't be great people stepping up to take over as the current guard retires. Call me selfish, but while I am a ways away from retirement, I work with others who are much closer to retirement.  I want to be sure there are amazing people ready to step up and share the leadership role with me for years to come.

The process of cultivating a new generation of leadership is not a simple one and it does not have a "one size fits all" solution.   What may work for me and my community won't necessarily work for your community. I could spend time obsessing over factors like the growing teacher shortage, the pay, the lack of practical formation and ongoing professional development, lamenting that I will neve rbe able to mentor anyone into leadership.  But I don't find that a worthy endeavor as the factors are out of my control.  So I choose to focus on what I CAN do:

  • share the #eduwins that happen in my office with the faculty
  • be a positive presence on campus rather than moping about, complaining about how busy I am-ummm, have you seen how busy your rock star teachers are these days?? 
  • invite members of the staff to take on small leadership tasks and then celebrate their successes
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  • make sure people know I am having fun and truly enjoy what I am doing (because 99% of the time I really DO!)
  • share my thinking with others who are curious--the more transparent I can be with my thought process, the more people who are being mentored and they don't even know it (sneaky!!)
If you believe everything you read, then great educational leaders, like great teachers (or pretty much any other "great"--manager, athlete, mom...) are about as rare as unicorns.  I happen to not believe that line of thinking.  

Now, if people don't see you enjoying what you are doing, they will turn and run because no one wants to imagine themselves a defeated curmudgeon!

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I challenge you to spend some time thinking about why you chose to be an educator in the first place, and then make sure you not only get to do "that" every day, but also model doing "that" regularly.  If others see you doing what you love, it will be easier to cultivate the next generation of leaders.  We know we are always being watched--by our students, faculty, parents--so make sure they are watching the good stuff!  How many of us see people who seem happy in their jobs and say: "I want to do 'that' because they always have so much fun!"?   We need to be those people that are having so much fun that others will want to be like us.

If we are leaders, then we must truly lead in every aspect of our job.  That means looking not just to the future of our site from the perspective of curriculum, facilities, and staffing.  We also need to look to the future of our office.  It is our job to ensure that it continues to be occupied by someone who is dynamic, forward-thinking, a risk taker, and above all is in love with the job.  

I certainly don't have answers to every issue that crops up, but this one I think is pretty clear: if I can model for others the great things that I get to do like visiting classrooms, hanging out with kids, sharing the story of the school, visioning,  then others will want to join in the fun.  And then only unicorns will remain the rarity.

How do you cultivate leadership at your school site? 


  1. I'm not a school administrator, although I think I'd like to be ... someday. For me, though, the hesitation comes less from the stresses and challenges of the job and more from the fact that I absolutely LOVE working with my students. As an administrator, you lose that hands-on connection with the kids - or at least, you seem to. With a few exceptions, most of the administrators I've worked with have been primarily restricted to their offices or to meetings off-site. They see kids in a disciplinary setting, and occasionally at the school's special events, but they no longer have the ability to work with them in the classroom.

    So that might be part of it as well.


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