Teaching Opinion

What I Love Most About Leading Is Working With People

By Starr Sackstein — December 23, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“You got this,” I said to one of my colleagues. “You’re amazing, and regardless of how this one situation goes, that doesn’t change anything about who you are and what you know.”

With unease, the person looked at me, almost unwilling to hear my encouraging words.

I know how it feels to be so stressed that I forget how much I know and can do. In many ways, as soon as one thing doesn’t go my way, I’m ready to abandon everything I’ve done well, to focus all my energy on the misstep. Until I remember, that this misstep is an opportunity.

When I was in the classroom, I built impeccable relationships with my students. Knowing their strengths and challenges better than they did, I was in the unique position to push them when and where I knew I could and when to pull back when it was too much. I also knew when to take the training wheels off, show them a mirror, and help them recognize their successes.

Usually, by the end of one school year, students were able to reflect with precision about what they knew and could do against the standards, showing evidence from their own learning to support what they were suggesting that they had learned. They also knew when and how to ask for help, knowing I would be on the other end of their request with a smile, ready to help in any way I could.

Much in the same way, leaders are supposed to support their team members in the way they need, not in a manner that best suits him/her. Just like in the classroom when teachers have to meet students where they are, each leader needs to meet their teachers where they are.

Building relationships with the people we work with is truly the first step in establishing trust both in the person and in their ability to help. We have to know that the person we are working with truly has our best interest in their hearts. And sometimes when working with adults, they have had layers of bad experiences that we need to help them disassociate from before they are ready to hear help from someone new.

Perhaps one of my special gifts as a leader is being able to recognize when folks on my team need me. I check in. When I’m walking through the hallways, I poke my head in to say hello and get a read on where they are. Genuinely interested, I ask questions and hope to be of service to them in whatever ways they need me to be.

Developing the kinds of relationships I have has allowed many folks on the team to invite me, solicit my help, allow me to share their space and co-teach, and this is a reciprocal kind of nurturing as this is what my heart needs to feel whole as a leader.

Perhaps one of the best compliments I got recently is that I’m really good at knowing what people need. Teaching is such a stressful job, and if we want to be the best at it (as I believe most teachers do), then we put a lot of ourselves into our lessons and our relationships. Everyone should feel as good as they are.

I take personal responsibility for helping each teacher on our team feel efficacy in their work. Sometimes that means providing feedback on a lesson or watching a class or reviewing some data and reflecting on next steps. Sometimes it means talking someone off the metaphorical ledge and helping them see what I see.

Each person is a learner regardless of their age, and the dignity that comes with stretching is a challenge for all of us.

As I continue to grow into this new role, I need my team as much as they need me. The same way they need my encouragement, I often need theirs and I work hard to ask for the feedback when I need it.

Leadership really does mimic so much of what I love about being in the classroom. There are some different responsibilities that I’m not as fond of, but there were things in the classroom I didn’t love, either. However, I did find workarounds and loopholes and I suspect, the more time I spend in this role, I will do the same.

How do you help members on your team be the best version of themselves? Please share

*Picture made with Pablo.com

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.