Professional Development Opinion

Leaders, Know Who Your Team Needs You to Be

By Starr Sackstein — June 24, 2018 3 min read
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As a naive new leader, I believed on some level that my “agenda” would be at the forefront of what I accomplished this year but quickly realized that my “agenda” wasn’t going to get me anywhere fast.

My views are often way more progressive than our folks are ready to deal with and forcing people to move faster than they are ready to go is the best way for any change to fail.

Understanding this idea about implementation from a teacher’s mindset, I knew quickly that I’d need to understand the lay of the land and then determine what the best place to start was.

Developing relationships with our team and truly being attentive to their needs, I learned who they wanted and needed me to be and more importantly when to be which.

Adult learners want their leaders to respect their expertise and experience. They want us to notice their good work, but not make a spectacle. They want what’s best for kids.

Leaders must make an effort to assume the positive in every situation because approaching challenges from a deficit or negative mindset presents the outcome we expect. If we assume adult learners are teaching because they love kids and want to be the best version of themselves, how we read and respond to situations presents a lot differently.

This year I needed to be a listener, a problem solver, and a supporter. That agenda I spoke about at the beginning wasn’t visible or spoken about with the team at all. Instead, I presented information from a variety of viewpoints, opened up the floor for conversations in the whole group as well as one to one and then allowed the team to select the agenda for next year.

At the end of the day, whatever they selected will work with the overall goals of the district and will continue to align with the changing standards in our state in different content areas.

Although it is hard at times to divorce my personal philosophies from how I lead, I remember that there is a time and a place and making a directive isn’t the way to bring success to our space.

Conversations bubble up and carefully I play the chess pieces of how to respond. Some teachers can see me as both their boss and a separate person who has ideas and beliefs that matter. One of them asked me the other day if I ever planned to go to state ed at some point to assert change in the system. My standard response to that question, is “yes when I grow up.”

At some point in my career, I do believe I will be involved in policy-making around assessment in particular and will make it my life’s mission to change the way we assess students. We have to move away from standardized tests and move toward portfolio assessment that allows students to be seen for who they are and shows what they know and can do in a variety of ways.

Ultimately, we need to know our people.

  • Know who knows what and how they want to be spoken to and then speak to them in that way.
  • Know how each person responds to set-backs so you know how to diffuse situations before they blow up.
  • Know how to break hard news to folks who don’t want to hear it and then support them with baby steps if need be.
  • Know when and how to praise each person on your team because each person may feel differently about how.
  • Know which teachers don’t want to be publicly celebrated. This is particularly applicable with social media and photos.
  • Know who your “go to” teachers are and how to pair them with others.
  • Know who you can expect to go above and beyond and modify for some “late bloomers”.
  • Assume the best of each person on your team and care about how they feel and react accordingly.

While we are doing all of this stuff for the folks on our team, we also have to stay true to ourselves. Although we may not be able to go at the pace we wanted, we should still act with personal integrity, so we never lose sight of what we believe.

Who does your team need you to be? How do you know? Please share

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