Sunday, February 9, 2014

To a New Administrator: An Open Letter about Courage

As I sat it the airport waiting on my return flight to Birmingham earlier today from the powerful No Child Left Out Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, I scrolled through Twitter to see what my friends had been up to at the NASSP Conference in Dallas. In my twitter feed was a reference by Laurie Barron (@LaurieBarron) to a blog post by Tim Dawkins (@Tim_Dawks) titled "Breakfast of Champions and the Power of Yet."

To summarize (and I recommend you read the entire blog post), Tim is a new assistant principal with a background in counseling. When he went to breakfast Friday morning, he was placed at a table with another singleton at the conference. 

Here's what Tim said in his blog post:
"I definitely got more than I bargained for. As our conversation moved from introductions and general pleasantries to the business of the weekend, I was confronted with the idea that my background as a school counselor would not serve me well as an educational leader at the building level... My breakfast partner, a long-time principal from the West Coast, felt it necessary to tell me that I am at a pretty hefty disadvantage because I haven't spent time building lesson plans, writing curriculum, and instructing in a subject area, and unfortunately teachers would never really take my attempts to improve instruction and learning seriously because of this."
Tim goes on to share how he is choosing to respond to her comments. He had just heard Dr. Carol Dweck be interviewed the day before, and he took this opportunity to embrace a growth mindset. He is choosing to embrace the word "Yet" and give himself permission to grow and learn.

After I read Tim's blog post, I started typing a response in the comments, but I quickly realized that I have a lot of thoughts on this in response to what I read. So, Tim, here's my response.

Dear Tim, 

I commend you for choosing to hear words from a perspective that gives your breakfast friend the benefit of the doubt. It shows you come from a place of positivity and hope. That says more to me about leadership and respect than previous experience with lesson planning.

I also applaud you for choosing to have a growth mindset.  No matter where we are in our leadership journey, whether it's the first year or the twentieth year, when we feel like we have "arrived," then it's time to get out. We should all feel like we can and will continue to learn and grow.

And... I've learned that leading is leading. Period. I know successful coaches who never played the sport they coached. It wasn't about what that coach could do, it was about what that coach could get his/her players to do successfully. Leading has to do with relationships and trust. Sometimes trust can be built on a leader having "been there, done that," but sustaining trust and followership is built on so much more. 

So I respectfully disagree with your breakfast partner's statements. I wish she had taken time to get to know you. To ask you some of the questions you are asking yourself. To consider the meeting an opportunity to be a positive influence on a new administrator. To TEACH.

After spending a weekend with incredible educators such as Stephen Peters (who would have listened, encouraged, and given you practical advice), Dick Allington (who would have met with you after breakfast and mentored you), Cynthia Wilson (who would have asked you if you have a heart for leading), or Alfred "Coach" Powell (who would have told you, "You did not choose this job, this job chose you."), I can only believe that the reason you met and talked to the person you did was to deepen your commitment and resolve. The students you serve need and deserve an educator who is passionate and "all in."

Thank you for your commitment to leadership as well as personal and professional growth. Thank you for being open and honest. Your words remind all of us to be reflective and to persist even when the naysayers show up. Thank you for your courage.


1 comment:

  1. Leadership is a vocation unto itself so focus on developing leadership skills!