Sunday, January 29, 2017

Passionate Leadership

My biggest take away from this book and my current experiences is that the best leadership requires passion, "an affair of the heart" (135).  I always knew this, but only in having lived the role (albeit briefly), I am reminded how truly crucial it is.

In our first post, we talked about why we became teachers.  Being called to teach is only half my story.  I had so many teachers who lacked passion.  I felt it as a student, and I felt cheated.  I knew they could have been giving me more, more knowledge, more challenge, more of themselves.  When I chose teaching, I made myself a promise that when I stopped loving my work, I would quit.  This job is too important, and we impact too many students, to not want to be here.

What I am going to say next may seem harsh and fixed-minded, yet it is a very strong part of my core.  I know it, I guard against it, and give people many opportunities to prove me wrong.  Yet, in  all honesty, we know there are teachers who no longer love the job. My personal experiences have also made me fairly intolerant of educators I perceive as not being passionate and engaged as professionals.  I avoid negative lunch room scenes, and I avoid these teachers.  I take the idea of our professionalism very seriously, and I want to prove people wrong who believe anyone can do this job.  Educators who are not passionate, who do the minimum, give all teachers a bad name.

What does any of this have to do with leadership?  In trying to find my path in this new leadership role, I have realized two things.  One-this is not my passion project.  I am an early adopter, I will work with the early majority, but I am not the one who will bridge to the more resistant staff.  I found myself much more compelled by the peer tutoring simulation because I am far more passionate about that than I am our current initiative.  Second-I am not sure I will ever be the carry-the-torch, out-front-leader.  I am not sure I am willing to divert the emotion, time, and energy away from my students in order to lead the charge.  I don't have the patience or tolerance for teachers I believe are not changing because it is inconvenient for them.  Change is not convenient or easy, but if it is right for kids, it is the right thing to do.  We owe it to our students and our profession to always be growing and reflecting and bettering our craft.  I hold myself to this standard, and I hold others to it also.

I think my second take-away is that I am OK with broadening my definition of leadership.  I will work within my supportive circles to innovate and change, and I will always strive to do what is best for my kids.  I will support leaders who present positive changes with their hearts on their sleeves. I will be an open door for those who are willing and ready to learn and share.  And, at the end of the day, I will always put my students first.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Part of the process or failure?

Since I have taken the path of working out my leadership angst in this blog, I will continue on this path because I have still not made peace with the role and responsibility I suddenly have as my building works to discuss and reflect on grading practices and philosophies.

I feel I might be living a big potential fail right now as my building looks to examine grading practices, so these readings are really resonating with me as I struggle.  I do say “feel” because as Kouzes and Posner point out, leadership and change are filled with “uncertainty, hardship, disruption, transformation, transition, recovery, new beginnings, an other significant challenges” (93).  I know that change is not easy, and I did not expect it to be, but that doesn’t change the frustration and doubt I am feeling right now.  I also know that this contentious time may just be a necessary part of the change process.  My crystal ball is dark though on whether we will work through this successfully or if we will fail to implement large-scale change.

Chapter 5 is so on point-as I read that chapter, I see one flaw in our change efforts at the high school.  I don’t think we have listened enough, talked enough, shared enough.  I am not sure our leadership team has made the connections necessary to get the buy in, and I definitely do not feel we have a shared vision right now.  As is so often the case in education, there is so much on our plates that teachers simply go into survival mode--we have to get to the end of the day, to the end of the week, the end of the quarter, the end of the year.  We are so bogged down in the nuts and bolts that we do not have any energy left to do more, especially when it feels like someone is asking “more” of you because they did not create a shared vision, listen, and get buy in.  So in being part of the leadership team, I feel we failed from day 1.  Now the question is how to regroup and restart the process…change of tactics, change of message, change of leadership...

I also feel personal failure in my role in all this.  I am not sure I am in the right role in all this; I have tended to do what is right, then share with people who are interested.  I have never tried to move the mountain.  I do feel I have failed to lead effectively. I have not been able to communicate the importance of reflecting on grading (not that people must change, but just look at our own practice). I have not been able to calm fears and dispel erroneous thinking.  I think the staff is pretty divided on this issue.  It is causing tension in relationships, and people have lashed out personally.  I am not sure I am up for the emotional toll leading takes, and  I don’t know if this philosophy is my passion project.  I believe in it; I think it is good for kids; I think it is the right change.  But, I am not sure I am ready to go to the line, take the heat, and invest in it.  That may seem contradictory, but I am no different than my colleagues--my plate is also full, and I know I have to make choices of where and when to expend.  There is a cost to everything.  I stopped short when I read this quote:  "Challenges cause you to come face to face with yourself.  They are rather harsh ways of remind you of what's important, what you value, and where you want to go" (94).  I think I need to come to terms with myself first, then see if I move on as an out-front person or move back to a practitioner/supporter on this issue.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Leadership Challenge

I became a teacher because it is my calling. I know-cliche, but it is true.  I didn't initially want to hear the call, but after a major upheaval in my life, I had to listen (that whole story is a series of blog posts that I will spare you).  I have tried to make decisions and develop practices based on what is good for kids, not fads, not what is easiest for me, not what has been past practice.  I truly believe if we all could just keep that focus central, so much of education would become easier.  It isn't about the adults in the system, the politics, or even the parents-it is and always should be what is best for kids.

Last week my peers challenged me on my admittedly narrow definition of "leadership," and I felt compelled to look more closely at that, especially after reading Truths 2-4.  Kouzes and Posner ask "What does it take to be the kind of person, the kind of leader, others want to follow, do so enthusiastically and voluntarily?" (16).  This is the kind of responsibility and power which I think I meant to discuss in last week's post.  I think there is a difference between role model and leader, between mentor and leader.  I can see myself, and take pride in, the opportunities I have had to be a role model of this amazing profession and have been able to mentor new teachers.  I owe a debt of gratitude to the amazing people who mentored me; education is truly a pay-it-forward profession.  I find these moments of modeling and mentoring easy and rewarding; I am comfortable and know I can impact students by impacting other teachers.

However, the kind of leadership Kouzes and Posner are detailing is of a completely different caliber.  This is the role I have always assigned to administrators.  I always viewed it as their job to lead the staff, yet I find myself being put in a position this year to have to step (maybe leap is more apt) outside of my comfort zone and lead the staff as we explore grading practices.  I am not even sure I want this role (and the frustration and responsibility and stress) nor am I sure I possess the patience, the persuasion skills, or the endurance to take this on.  Self-preservation looks mighty fine--pull in, take care of my own classroom and kids, do what I know is right.  Yet, I believe this conversation and change is good for kids, so I am torn and (somewhat unwillingly) am putting myself out there.  As much as I try not to take resistance and opposition personally, the elements this book espouse do make it personal.  Tough contradiction to navigate.

Yet, if I am going to true to my guiding principle, I must choose this path, no matter how uncomfortable it makes students are depending on me to do what is right for them.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"You Make a Difference"

Growth is never linear when we are thinking about learning.  It is intense and rapid in the beginning stages, then slows, but often has little "blips" of intense growth.  I went into teaching with a personal expectation that as soon as I didn't want to go to work, I would quit teaching.  While I framed it as love for the job initially, I now know that part of that love is continuing to learn and grow professionally, no matter the rate.

My earliest professional mentors were many of my high school teachers; however, many of these were the "what not to be" examples, as I perceived many of them as stagnant and out of touch.  My most earliest positive leader-mentor was in my first job.  I loved and admired the woman who took me under her wing.  From my young vantage point, she appeared to have it all figured out.  She was so knowledgeable, so calm, so together--I knew I wanted to be her when I was older.  She taught me both professionally and personally, and I know she had such an impact because she took all of me in, not just the professional part.

Flash-forward 21 years, and here I am--feeling no where near where I still believe my mentor was at my age.  In fact, even coming to terms with the fact that I have been teaching 21 years and am a veteran member of the staff is a challenge--how could I possibly know enough yet to be a leader and why would anyone listen to me?

While the opening chapter of The Truth about Leadership goes straight at my inner voice, I'm not convinced yet.  I believe I matter, and I want to continue to learn and grow, but I really struggle to see myself as the same caliber of teacher-leaders that have so influenced me over the years.  I know I have a strong vision and passion, but I am not willing to force that passion or those choices on others.   The choices I have made and will make for my profession are my own; I cannot begin to presume or suggest that others must follow the same suit.

My current learning curve is focused on mastery learning and truly examining my grading & assessing practice and reporting.  Much of this is difficult learning as it stems from years of past practice and status quo, but I am searching for my own path in it.  I am not sure I can lead effectively yet as I still have so many unanswered questions myself.

And, if I am totally honest, leading is scary and hard.  To put yourself out there, to conscientiously work toward change is a soul-baring journey, and while it shouldn't feel personal, it does.  It is also tiring and frustrating to believe deeply in something but be blocked and rebuked by people you respect and hoped would be swayed.

But even that is part of the learning...responding to the failure and struggle, choosing to continue or not, regrouping and trying again...still learning and growing.