Monday, January 22, 2018

Leading Through Empowering #EdChat

This year, I started a new position at a new school. I had been teaching literature for 15 years in the same place, but I was ready to move on and tackle something bigger. You never know what a new job is going to look like, but I couldn't be happier about the decision I made. This is simply the best job for me in the entire world. Now, there are so many different reasons why this job is amazing. I could write about the fantastic teachers working hard every day to engage their students in new and creative ways. I could write about all of the support staff doing their best to help students before and after school to keep them moving in the right direction. I can even spend time writing about the amazing students that are willing to try new things in the Makerspace and fail proudly knowing it is not a big deal. I really want to write about the leadership of my school and how it is an example to others looking for the right way to engage their staff.

Imagine working at a job where the administration is not supportive, vindictive, cruel, and just not sympathetic to a teacher's needs to provide the best educational environment for their students. This is a position that some of you might not have to imagine. One example of a bad admin approach would be the "My way or the highway" approach. It does not work. It does not work when teachers are highly educated professionals that have years of experience teaching some of the top students in the state. Over time, teachers become demoralized and no longer want to be involved in anything if grief is the only reward for speaking out or suggesting alternatives. History shows us that fear will only get people to do what you want for so long before  everyone gives up trying. You can't manage people effectively through fear and intimidation. To get the most out of a staff, respect needs to be the number one feeling teachers feel whenever meeting with administrators. If that is not there, nothing else matters.

In my current position, I've had many different ideas on how to grow the Makerspace, integrate technology into the classroom, engage reluctant learners through code, and other things. Every time I brought up an idea to my administrators, it was always, "Ya, let's explore that" or "Ok, I trust you to make it happen" and even "You're the expert, you decide what is best". For some of you, those words might be confusing because your admin has never said them to you. I totally understand. I was washed over by this feeling of empowerment. I genuinely felt like I could make some changes and make a difference. Instead of worrying about the backlash or the stalling tactics or the bruised egos of people who didn't come up with the idea, I was able to share ideas and get to work because I was a trusted professional that is an expert in my field. It is the best feeling in the world. It was sad that it had been so long since I've felt that excitement and empowerment.

Leadership works through empowering others to be leaders. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and a leader helps other stand out and work on those weaknesses over time. By empowering your staff, you will get so much more out of them in the long term. It is silly to have to write this, but you actually do get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Leadership is about checking the ego and supporting others for the good of everyone. If you are more concerned about your image than the success of the staff around you, you are a terrible administrator. Sorry to be so blunt, but admins that carry themselves around as if they are better than their staff do not understand what real leadership is and are a cancer on any educational institution. Their antics can take years to clean up after they have left because teachers need to feel safe to trust again.

If you are an admin and you are reading this post, I have one simple question for you.

"If you are not empowering teachers to take action to be part of the school's community to make it better for all of the stakeholders, what are you doing as a "leader" of the building?"

If you are not sure how to answer that question, it might be time for you to think of a career change because you are hurting education.

NP