Education Opinion

The Second Dementor of Teacher Leadership: Saying “Yes”

By Megan M. Allen — October 31, 2016 6 min read
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Part Two of the Teacher Leader Dementor Series: The Yes Dementor

Part One was published last week and discussed the Dementor of Self-Doubt. Read about part one here and be on the look out for part three, coming later this week! And a special shout out to the Harry Potter fans and to others who, like Harry, have to battle Dementors.


That’s how many plastic hotel key cards I have.

I’ve been collecting them since mid-2010, when the seed of an idea was planted. I was asked to quantify my teacher leadership (yep, data and evaluation), so one way I thought about doing so was to see how much I was actually traveling. I would save all my hotel keys from work trips.

And I have 137, as pictured above.

These 137 keys represent another problem I face. Another Teacher Leadership Dementor that can suck the happiness right out of my work. That Death Eater that circles me is the Yes Dementor. He causes the inability to say no to education-related work opportunities. Let me explain...

Want to be on this parent involvement committee? Yes!

Can you visit our state meeting and talk about advocacy? Yes!

Can you lead this workshop on building strong teacher teams? Yes!

“If not me, then who?” That used to be my mantra. So I would say yes...to every committee, event, writing opportunity, meeting, event, conference-you name it. And one of the results is 137 plastic hotel card keys collected from work trips over the past 6 years. This Yes Dementor swirls overhead, affecting my personal life, professional life, and health. My effectiveness as an educator and an advocate. And sometimes, my effectiveness as a person.

In a Teaching Channel #TchLIVE twitter chat last week, one of the themes I noticed when we discussed the challenges faced in teacher leadership was self-care. Teachers and teacher leaders admitted that they struggled find balance, that they were saying “yes” too many times and were stretched all too thin. That’s a common Dementor we face--the Dementor of Yes. And a big part of defeating that Dementor is being selective with our additional activities outside of our job.

I’m not saying to deny any opportunity that comes your way, especially when it may benefit your students. What I am saying is that we need to think about all the things we are putting on our plates and questioning if the workload is realistic. In one survey by Bain and Company of over 4,000 teachers, it was found that 66% of teacher leaders are doing work outside of their job description with no release time. Just on top of their teaching loads. And I speak from experience when I say that when we try to do it all, we aren’t really successful at everything. When I constantly say “yes,” I start dropping balls. The train comes off the rails. The Dementor wins.

So we must find balance and practice self-care. I know this is easier said than done, so here are some strategies, thoughts, and resources to defeat the Yes Dementor:

  • Write down your main passion in education (or whatever your field is!). Don’t know what that is? What is your favorite part of being a teacher? Leadership? What gets your blood pumping and passion ignited? For me, it’s teacher voice and professionalizing the profession. Once you have pinpointed that passion, write it on a sticky note and post it where you can see it at all times. When an opportunity presents itself, ask yourself this: Does it help me learn more and/or do something about this passion? Does it move my work forward with this passion? If the answer is yes, you may want to consider the opportunity.
  • Remember the definition of opportunity. A wise mentor and brilliant teacher (the amazing Julie Sparks) once told me an opportunity is just that: An opportunity. It doesn’t mean that you have to take it! You have the choice. I hear those words quite frequently in my head and find them to be a great reminder.
  • Realize that stepping back from opportunities allows others to step forward! Ditch the “If not me, then who” mentality. It’s neither healthy nor true. Realize that there are others. And what if you were able to tap other teachers on the shoulder for these opportunities? So many times teachers don’t realize the amazingness they hold (ahem...Self-Doubt Dementor), so it takes a colleague to point out their greatness, tap them on the shoulder, or nudge them towards an opportunity. We must lift each other up.
  • Embrace that self-care is ESSENTIAL in teaching and teacher leadership. It’s a non-negotiable. I’ve seen far too many teachers burn out, and far too many teacher leaders get super crispy around the edges. In order to impact our students and the profession, we must be in the best, most spectacular shape mentally. Here’s a trick: Book appointments with yourself. That’s right-put them in your calendar. Even 15 minutes to yourself can make a difference. Time to read. Jog. Garden. Whatever it is that you enjoy and helps you unwind. And don’t dare feel guilty about doing this. That time you put into self-care will come back tenfold with the newfound energy in your professional work.
  • Don’t neglect all the other important things in life. David Sedaris mentions the four burners of life in his essay “Laugh Kookaburra,” alluding to the four burners on top of a stove. Those are family, work, friends, and health. If you want to be really effective or good at one of those four items, you have to turn the heat up on it and turn down (or off) on another burner. And I’ve done it: I’m guilty as charged, with a divorce and strained friendships as the evidence. And do you know what? No work trip or issue is worth the withering away of a relationship or your personal health. Keep those burners in check. All of them. Attend to them routinely and don’t neglect a single one.
  • Learn the gentle art of saying “no.” This may be one of my favorite Life Hacker articles of all time, which outlines how to say no gently. Some big takeaways: You can never be productive if you try to take on too many things. Value your time. And don’t feel guilty saying no. As I’ve stated before (and continue to state, because it is still sinking in for me), guilt is a wasted emotion.
  • One last trick: Practice saying “no” out loud. It works! Follow the lead of my two-year-old niece and become comfortable with that word. Sometimes that comfort comes with practice. Would you lead our aftercare program even though you are already leading our before care student program? I’m sorry, no. Would you chair this parent involvement committee even though you are already chairing two others? I’m already committed...no. Embrace it. Try it. It feels good!

We will continue to battle this second Dementor of Teacher Leadership, the Dementor of Yes. And it’s not an easy battle, as I’ve added 2 plastic hotel key cards to my pile just this past week alone. But step one is realizing that it is an issue, and step two is realizing it is an ongoing war, not just a single battle. And in this war, we are each other’s best and strongest allies. We are each other’s Patronus Charm.

Take that, Dementor.

Part 3 is coming later this week, as we tackle another Dementor of Teacher Leadership, Isolation. Please share your strategies and/or teacher leader Dementors below! We learn best together.

Second photo courtesy iKobe.

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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