Teaching Opinion

Great Leadership Is Like Great Teaching

By Starr Sackstein — February 04, 2018 3 min read
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Reflection is a big ingredient in my professional diet. Since I tamed the National Board experience and saw how powerful thinking about my practice was, it was difficult to not make time to do it on a regular basis.

Perhaps I always spent time thinking about my lessons or my students or my growth, but when I committed to spending time writing about it and sometimes even doing Periscopes about it, the audience gave it more purpose.

Since I began my leadership journey in September, I’ve repeatedly challenged to see myself differently than I have before. Spending time identifying the new professional me, while still very much attached to the classroom teacher version of myself I took so long to develop.

Despite defining myself as a teacher of students, as I continue to read On Becoming a Leader for our administrative council book study, I’m able to validate the similarities of being a classroom teacher with being a great leader.

Warren Bennis says there are nine steps to leadership (p.134 of his book):

  1. Reflection leading to resolution.
  2. Resolution leading to perspective.
  3. Perspective leading to point of view.
  4. Point of view leading to tests and measures.
  5. Test and measures leading to desire.
  6. Desire leading to mastery.
  7. Mastery leading to strategic thinking.
  8. Strategic thinking leading to full self-expression.
  9. The synthesis of full self-expression = leadership.

Some of these steps are already a part of who I am as a person. Reflection is something I do regularly and advocate for students and adults in education. If we didn’t spend time thinking about our decisions with the intention of moving toward a resolution of some kind, we wouldn’t be using our reflection with a goal in mind. Being intentional about how and what we reflect on forces us to dig deeper and see what lies before us more clearly.

It is with this clarity that we are able to develop perspective on any situation, and this perspective is what ultimately guides our point of view or belief system on any given topic. As a team leader, I’m eager to help my colleagues see the value of change for the benefit of our students, but not at the cost of having them shut down. So instead of pushing my own agenda, I’m learning to patiently assert ideas, share conversations, and hear what my team is thinking to better prepare for the tests and measures of the point of view.

It’s from these tests and measures that my desire to dig deeper is developed. Each teacher on my team and each leader on the team fans my desire to be better for everyone. Since I truly want to change education for all students, my desire soon grows to mastery of content. I sometimes struggle with sharing my mastery because I’m often uncomfortable coming off as an “expert” of anything. There is such richness in what each voice on my team brings, that I’m simply there to help each of them be the best version of themselves; that’s really what leadership is about.

As I continue to build the relationships, my level of mastery helps bring about more strategic thinking. This is the area where I get beyond the day to day and see the bigger picture. Much like planning a unit or a curriculum, I have to have the end goal in mind as I move forward. It’s only with this vision that I can assert with any kind of authority the reasons and meaning for the changes that lie ahead.

Now moving into the self-expression phase of the process, I’m learning to trust my leader-voice. Taking everything I’ve learned from the people on the team and all of my experiences in the classroom, I push forward endlessly hoping that the students will get everything they need. We are only as good as the realization of the goals and the fortitude and commitment we exert as we move forward.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. People don’t agree all of the time, but it is essential that we honor those who don’t while helping them see why we need to do what is coming. Transparency is the only way we can trust each other and trust is necessary for forward-movement.

Every day I go to work clear in my resolve to do what I know I was hired to do. And each day I get better at it. And I love that I have the opportunity to do the professional reading that encourages the thought process.

As a classroom teacher I was fearless and now as a leader I have to be too. Adults, however, are far scarier sometimes than the high school seniors I used to teach. I’ll just keep smiling and practicing what I preach and I know that change will happen.

What have you read lately that has pushed your thinking? Please share.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.