Education Opinion

The Dementors Facing Teacher Leaders (and How to Defeat Them)

By Megan M. Allen — October 21, 2016 4 min read
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Part One: Self-Doubt and the Isle of Enough

Confession: I’m a Harry Potter fan. I may have welled up a bit this spring when I walked into Diagon Alley for the first time at Universal Studios. Harry is a young wizardling battling a lot of foes, with one of the scariest (for me!) being the Dementors. For those of you who weren’t sucked into Hogwarts and the wizarding world like I was, let me sum up what Dementors are. They are ghoul-like creatures that feed on human happiness. And just like Harry and his friends had to battle the Dementors to survive, I find that many great teacher leaders are fighting the same battle.

Yes--we have our own Dementors as teachers. I plan to create a mini-series on each, but I want to start with a big, bad one. This first Dementor is Doubt.

I have the pleasure of working with some of the greatest teachers in the United States. I know I’m biased, but seriously. They are. Not only highly effective in the classroom, they are also great leaders of their colleagues. But here’s the kicker: They don’t know it. They have the swirling Doubt Dementor circling over their heads, like a vulture casting his eery shadow below. These teachers don’t see in themselves what others see in them; how amazing and gifted they truly are at reaching their students and inspiring their colleagues. They think they are not smart enough, old enough, accomplished enough to make a difference in the teaching profession. The Dementor sucks away their ability to see the great potential they hold with their students and other teachers.

I also face the Doubt Dementor, as he threatens my confidence and happiness on occasion. I’ve written a lot about imposter syndrome and am constantly trying to fight it...it’s a war, not a battle. This Dementor has the ability to suck the joy right out of my work and place a dark rain cloud over my head, tinging work happiness with a sour taste. Case in point:

Working with a group of veteran teachers at the Maine Education Association last weekend, I had a slight encounter with this Dementor before the group of 35 veteran educators entered the room. He loomed overhead as he penatrated my excitement with self-doubt. Am I good enough? These are amazing teachers, who am I to be facilitating learning with them? Will they see right through me? Am I truly enough?

That big, bad ole’ Dementor tried to suck the joy right out of that learning experience. But I fought back and took hold of that doubt. And then I changed the narrative. Here’s my weapon.

One of my colleague’s husbands, Timothy Gillis, wrote a beautiful book for this daughters titled The Island of Enough: A Traveler’s Guide. In the story, there is a mythical island of only adults where everyone walks around with a mirror. They only see themselves, and they are constantly thinking one thing: Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I pretty enough? Am I happy enough? Like a broken record, they are caught by the recursive nature of self-doubt.

A young girl named Pearl finds herself on this island, as do most people when they turn 13 and are approaching adulthood. But one day, her mirror breaks. Then she notices all the people around her who are caught up in their own self-doubt. She marvels at them, and how they don’t see one another. Then she sees a boat approach, bellowing its horn.

Pearl is the only person to load onto the boat, the only one who sees it and hears it. And the boat is heading to the Present. When she is standing with the captain looking back at the Isle of Enough, she asks when they will arrive at The Present. The captain’s response? That she is already there.

As a new parent, I constantly question my ability. The Doubt Dementor circles. Am I good enough? Strong enough? Thoughtful and wise enough? Am I ENOUGH for these beautiful children?

As a facilitator of graduate students and teachers, I constantly question my ability. Again, He circles. Am I old enough? Educated enough? Experienced enough? Thoughtful and wise enough? AM I ENOUGH for these amazing teachers and leaders?

And I remember Pearl and what happens when we step away from the mirror and move away from the Isle of Enough, towards The Present. You enjoy the moment you are living in, the experience you are having, with the people around you. You realize you are enough.

As a new parent, I change my mirror to a window. I focus on my children. And the Doubt Dementor flees.

As a facilitator of graduate students and teachers, I change my mirror to a window. I focus on the wonderful educators in the room. What we can do as we learn together. And the Doubt Dementor flees.

So I hope my students and teachers who are facing this Dementor read this, and I hope they realize that they are TRULY enough. I hope they throw their mirrors down, breaking them into a million pieces, and creating a noise so loud that the Doubt Dementors scatter and are replaced by confidence and presence.

And I hope you also do the same. Let’s all toss those mirrors and board the ship to The Present. And cast that Doubt Dementor away as we realize that whether it’s parenting, being a great partner or friend, teaching or leading, we are enough.

So the call to action: Share this story with a friend or with your students. Point out the strengths in a colleague or an administrator. Take a moment to nurture those people around you. Be the person that helps break the mirror in someone who is a great parent, friend, teacher, or student, but battles this Dementor. We are each other’s greatest allies: It’s time to start a movement.

Take that, Dementor.


Special thanks to Cathy Swift and Timothy Gillis for helping me finding The Present by simply sharing a story. The beautiful and powerful gift of words.

Part two of the Dementor Series: Being a Workaholic, coming next week.

Photos courtesy of Redmond and Tif Pic.

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy 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.

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