Teaching Opinion

Thoughts on Becoming a Leader

By Starr Sackstein — October 17, 2017 3 min read
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Odd. Eccentric. Peculiar. Positive. Assertive. Open.

If there have been characteristics that accurately describe me throughout my life, the above would be true, as well as a whole host of others. The simple fact, though, is that I always felt different from people around me.

And although I may not have looked overtly different, my thoughts and behaviors despite my outward “normalness” diverged from the usual.

It took me some time to get used to that, but once I did, I owned it.

And the funny thing about knowing yourself really well, is that once you are true to yourself, like attracts like. People with whom I could easily share ideas without the fear of judgment magically manifested and the older I get, the truer this has become.

Which brings me to On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis.

Although I wouldn’t have characterized myself as a leader necessarily, I am finding many truths about myself in the read which is extremely reassuring given my new role.

Teachers are often leaders in their own right and the best of them can command a space without standing anywhere near the front. Planted firmly among their students, they propel learning through trust and high expectations. They model growth mindset and transparently share their learning, seemingly fearlessly.

In a classroom, I am adept at doing these things. The energy has always fed off of each other. Student success and my expectation of it as well as us all learning together. Sharing humility and possibility, unafraid to be gritty where necessary to bring students into the light. In this space, I grew confident.

No longer among students in a classroom, I’m re-learning to trust my inner voice. The same beliefs that pushed me, challenged me, and inspired me in the classroom are what ultimately drew me out: the chance to work for even more children while building up my colleagues for those students.

I am only as good as my word and my knowledge of how much we can accomplish together.

Here are some ideas that are resonating:

“Today, we have a more nuanced view of leadership...But no matter how collaborative our organizations, someone still needs to choreograph the players and make final decisions.” -p.4

“Our quality of life depends on the quality of our leaders.” -p.4

“We persist in grasping at neat, simple answers, when we should be questioning everything.” -p.19

“There are four steps in the process behind Norman Lear’s success in mastering the context: (1) becoming self-expressive; (2) listening to the inner voice; (3) learning from the right mentors; and (4) giving oneself over to the guiding vision.” -p.29

As I’m reading the book, I’m thinking to myself, how do I espouse these things in my life? How do they manifest? Although being critical of myself, is part of what pushes me forward to be the best version of myself.

In the second chapter, “Understanding the Basics,” the ingredients of leadership are spelled out clearly and although I know I possess the characteristics (at least I know I did in the classroom and perhaps other areas of my life), I’m still growing into the role for the adults I’m working with now.

As the book states, "[Leaders] do not worry about failure, but embrace errors, knowing they will learn from them. Learning from adversity is another theme that comes up again and again...” p.35

I’m certain I’ll make mistakes, but that’s cool. I’m also certain that together we will do awesome things.

Each day, I’ve approached this new job with an open mind, flexibility and willingness to learn, certain that if I put the students first, I’d be able to start developing relationships with teachers that foster that growth mindset.

And already I’ve learned so much. Although I may be an expert in some areas of my work, there is an infinite amount of possibilities for learning that is everchanging as the times change. I’m not afraid of that, I thrive on it. To me, change is exciting like when on a roller coaster climbing that first big hill; the anticipation is huge and maybe a little scary, but so much fun once you reach the peak and build momentum on the way down.

What have you read recently that resonates with you? 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.