Education Opinion

I Resolve to Clean Out My Leadership Closet

By Susan Graham — January 07, 2009 3 min read

After twenty-three years in our house, we couldn’t put off refinishing the floors any longer. In the process, we have had to completely empty every closet and cabinet in the house. And I’ve discovered that in 22 years you can acquire an awful lot of stuff.

I unearthed a few forgotten treasures and a quite a bit of junk, but mostly found that over the years I had stuffed every closet in my house with, you know, stuff. A lot of it was good stuff, but it was stuff I didn’t really need or use any more. Mostly there was just too much of it. I didn’t want to be burdened with taking care of it, but I felt guilty about throwing good stuff away, so I started offering it to other people. Interestingly, a lot of my old stuff often turned out to be just exactly what someone else needed or wanted. The stuff once again had real value and I got my space back.

I’ve had my job almost as long as I’ve had my house. After 21 years at Gayle Middle School, I have filled up my teacher leadership closet with a lot of stuff as well. Sometimes I took on a leadership role by default, sometimes by volunteering or being volunteered, and sometimes because I begged for the chance to be part of some wonderful new opportunity. But lately I’ve noticed that my calendar is often overbooked, my filing cabinet is overflowing, and there are days when I don’t know if I am coming or going.

Bit by bit, I seem to have indiscriminately stuffed my teacher leadership closet to capacity. I once read about a teacher who, every six years, took a leadership sabbatical. In the seventh year, she rested. She taught her classes and then went home without serving on a committee, chairing a department, writing a report, sponsoring a club, or teaching a professional development class. Her principal understood that she was not quitting. She was regrouping and recharging and would come back ready to take on new challenges.

I’m not brave enough to declare a Year of Jubilee like this teacher did. However, she is my role model as I make this professional New Year’s resolution:

In 2009 I am going to clean out my teacher leadership closet.

For every new leadership job I take on, I will pass an old leadership job to someone else. In some cases I have outgrown a role. In other cases the responsibility has outgrown my abilities. Maybe those responsibilities should go to a colleague who is eager to take on a challenge and who is likely to bring more knowledge, skill or enthusiasm to the tasks.

I’m going to work at soliciting emergent teacher leaders to partner with me for some jobs. Not only does this make the work load lighter, it also opens the door to fresh perspectives and expands networking between the oldies and the newbies. Partnering with someone else allows me to “keep a hand in” on a project, creates continuity, and frees up some closet space for new options.

I am beginning to learn to just say NO. I am no longer so unsure of myself that I fear being ostracized from all leadership opportunities if I don’t always say YES to everything. There is a difference between being finicky and being selective.

I’m also going to encourage nascent leaders to be proactive in pursuing leadership responsibilities. Since it is easier to recruit parade leaders than public martyrs, this requires that I give up whining about being unappreciated.

I plan to rat out teachers who are doing good things. Teachers are notorious for false modesty and the inability to self-advocate. Often administrators are unaware of what the teachers in their school know and are doing because no one tells them.

In the last five years, I’ve had opportunities that I never dreamed of. Like Leo, I was a Late Bloomer and I was over halfway through my career before I tried my hand at leadership. For the longest time, I didn’t think about doing anything except closing my door and teaching my kids. Then a principal pushed me, my CTE Director mentored me, and a couple of dear teacher friends invited me to join them in a couple of projects.

I was catapulted into a whole new world of leadership possibilities by the community of gifted educators at Teacher Leaders Network who boost each other up to see over their classroom walls. I want to help make that happen for other teachers, and I’d like to see it happen for them early in their careers.

I believed shared leadership is the key to building powerful schools. So I resolve to clean out that leadership closet and give away some roles to some colleagues who will make better use of them and treasure them as I once did. And who knows, in the process I might even free up time and space for some new acquisitions myself.

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.