If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.Brene Brown, Dare to Lead
Admittedly, I have had a rocky relationship with school leadership over the past five years. Nearly two and a half years have passed since my first foray into the dragon’s teeth of school leadership. Upon deep and frequent reflection, one fact has become quite obvious: no aspiring school leader could ever be truly prepared for what awaits them. Long hours. Seemingly endless paperwork. Resolving conflicts. Holding a middle-management niche. But recently, a second and more pertinent realization has also manifested: being a little more prepared to lead is always a good thing.
Initially, I reflected upon my experience as a school leader as one of failure. While I often felt unsupported from senior management, staff and students genuinely appreciated my heart-led and authentic approach to building relationships. Familial struggles at home and increased demands of time stretched my personal resources and mental health to new limits. Disagreements with superiors and condescension from a few colleagues drained what little joy I still held.
But, what a healthy antidote time offers!
Fast forward to today. I have temporarily put off my pursuit of school leadership in favour of settling back into the classroom, enjoying the students, and shrugged off the shackles of what is, ostensibly, the middle-management role in education. I have been invigorated! I am thriving as an educator and reaffirming a long-held personal truism about the western education system: our teachers have massive amounts of autonomy and more influence on the system than any school or senior administrator ever could.
A very cursory (and recent) Google search revealed over nine hundred million hits for ‘school leadership’ that includes scholarly research papers, books, TED Talks, blogs, associations of school leaders, and websites singularly dedicated to phrase ‘school leadership’. My personal collection of all resources ‘school leadership’ alone numbers into the hundreds. As a result another rationalization became abundantly clear: there’s no magic bullet for school leadership; there’s no one way through it; there’s no one particular personality type better suited. There is only the cultivation of a deep personal awareness, mindfulness, kindness, compassion, and empathy for those that we work with and for. The rest?
With all of that frontload, I have embarked on another professional learning adventure. I mean, why not?
So enter my school district’s inhouse school leadership preparatory program: Aspiring Leaders (Level 1).
So far, it has been a wonderful experience. The small cohort is composed of eight educators ranging from elementary through to secondary. Each has indicated an interest in educational leadership and exploring what that looks like in their professional lives as teachers and school leaders. Two meetings into the venture and I am enjoying the program immensely.
I am planning two personal inquiry projects to pursue this winter: ‘wonder child’ study and book study focusing on how cultivate a safe, vulnerable space for creativity in school to blossom in all learners using the Spirals of Inquiry process (Kaiser and Halbert, 2013).
But perhaps biggest and most obvious (?) question I am still investigating: why have I returned? I chose to withdraw from school administration over three years ago after only completing two and a half of a three year ‘probationary’ period. And I hold several unanswered questions (and judgments) about how I was (or wasn’t) supported; questions about whether or not I was “cut out” for the often impersonal and difficult responsibilities that come with school leadership; questions about daring to lead in a way that was neither supported nor sustainable at the time (best felt right). Lots of juicy questions to bite into.
Either way, I have returned, and so glad I did.
I know that I am a school leader as my past record of educational, professional, and local community based experiences leave no doubt. I have a suspicion that the Aspiring Leaders program will offer me the necessary time, space, and support of a variety colleagues to dig deeper. To explore. To learn.