Thursday, December 27, 2012

Leaders as Helpers, Helpers as Leaders

At my school, I simply call myself a helper.  I often say to students and parents, there are many helpers in our school.  This universal concept implies safety, community and support.  Moreover, it offers understandable, common schoolwide language for elementary students.  When students acknowledge me as a helper, it goes right to my heart.  It means they understand the essential nature of my role, and they know I am a safe person to help them.  Put simply, I believe we are in the helping profession.  We help students and adults grow to be the best people they can be, now and for the future. 

With credit to Pinterest via Shiseido USA

Teachers, secretaries, counselors, custodians, aides and parents – to name only a few are also everyday helpers.  The events of December 14, 2012 shook every helper in the most unimaginable way.  For me, the Newtown tragedy halted me in my tracks; and at the same time, called my leadership into action.  Like all schools, every helper in our schoolhouse and community worked quickly, collaboratively and instinctively to ensure the physical and psychological safety of our school and district.  Every helper was a leader.  On December 17 when we returned to school, so many said to me, “I am so glad we’re together.”  Hugs, handshakes and sentimental messages were widely exchanged among our community.  It meant everyone felt safe being together at school, and we wanted to unite as helpers and leaders, despite our trying to understand what could not be understood.  Indeed, there was a familiar comfort and safety in helping others for all of us.

This New Year when we return to school, I encourage us to remember this one valuable insight: leaders are helpers and helpers are leaders.  The two roles are inextricably linked.  Helping, which can be interchanged with leading is a simple, yet profound concept.  Never before in schools has helping implied so much.  Together, helping students, staff and parents will build resiliency that provides familiarity, strength and stability in our schools.  It also provides an interdependent and actionable way of showing love, care and support.  My New Year wish for all schools is that all helpers come together in small ways to make a difference within each community.  Together, we can foster the confidence and emotional security our children need, and reinforce that communities have many helpers, and helpers are always ready to lead.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pearls of Wisdom

When I was a principal intern, I was fortunate to mentor with the most expert principal I have ever known.  I consider her to be one of the five most impactful people in my life’s work.  Working for her was a career defining moment and a once in a lifetime personal opportunity.  She was giftedly instinctive; the kind of principal that knew your heart and mind before you revealed it.  She was a principal who led with the gift of intuition, knowing my innate strengths and believing in my capacity every step of the way.  She spotted strengths in me before I even knew I possessed them.  Challenging me at every step, she kept her support swift and steadfast.  Everyday, unbeknownst to my consciousness, she bequeathed me a pearl of leadership wisdom; one, then another, and still another.  This continued for three years as I apprenticed with her.  She was a strong, but patient teacher.  I keenly observed, listened, and tried to emulate her.  It was as impossible as it sounds, however little by little, she gave me the gift of her expertise.  Years of her leadership wisdom were warmly wrapped in insights, support, stories, laughter and empathy.  It would not be until years later that I finally realized those pearls of wisdom had become a strand of precious experiences that encircled my own leadership roles.

As a leader, you gain pearls willingly and unwillingly from experience, which is its own life teacher.  You know you have added a pearl to your strand the moment you experience it.  You have a visceral reaction.  It resonates with you.  It plays out for you again and again in different leadership scenarios, often when you least expect it.  A true pearl, when followed, never fails you.

I think about the pearls of wisdom on my leadership strand.  When I try to recall the most salient lessons I have learned and how they have shaped me as a leader, I appreciate how they are intertwined with my beliefs about learning.  By gifting three of my pearls to you, I hope they warmly encircle your practice this year.

  1. Know who you are and what you stand for.  All things start and end with your core beliefs.  If you are steadfast about who you are and what you stand for, your core beliefs will play out consistently in all of your leadership actions.  You will access this pearl over and over again, especially in the most challenging of times.

  1. Be willing to move your stakes, but never give up what is right for students.  It is important to be flexible in your collaboration style, but never sacrifice what is essential for students and their learning.  Every day, every week and every year is a critical one for students and they are counting on us to do what is right for them ALL of the time.  We are every child’s advocate.

  1. Make your decisions in the best interest of students.  Time and time again, when I am faced with a challenging issue and navigation seems complex, I stop and think about what is best for the student, academically, behaviorally and emotionally.  When I do this, the next step is always clear.  This pearl never fails.

What are the pearls of wisdom that encircle your practice?  

Cross posted to