Educators are Leaders; Both Intentional and Unintentional
I have witnessed and experienced a tremendous amount of growth through the practice of intentional reflection. I was recently asked to write a paper about personal leadership qualities and it caused me to reflect upon my growth as a leader throughout my career. As with most reflective practices, I recalled experiences that conjured up both positive and negative thoughts about these past journies. Some of the memories I recalled were of me demonstrating what would be considered the epitome of leadership qualities. Others, well let's just say I am glad there were leaders around me because my actions, words, and thoughts were far from what anyone would identify as those of a leader. Further, I thought about an instance in my memory of a time when I was intentionally seeking the title or .role of "Leader". It never crossed my mind early in my career. Yet, I was undoubtedly a leader. Educators are, daily, in the position of leadership. We must all be aware there is great power and responsibility that accompany this position.
By accepting our first job in education, we place ourselves in the position of potential leadership. As I reflect on my early years as an educator, I notice some weaknesses that kept me from becoming the type of leader my students or school needed. I communicated no moral vision to my students; just a goal of completing the curriculum and getting them to pass standardized tests. I was quick to display and portray the knowledge necessary to lead students to success. However, I showed no vulnerability or room for improvement or growth in my knowledge or methods. I stuck close to what I knew how to do and took very few innovative risks. But I had the goals of my corporation and school in mind and attempted to motivate my students by enticing them with the opportunity to pass that test! While these are not the qualities I now value in a leader, it is still leadership. It just aligns closely with a type of leadership called transactional leadership. Meeting the goals of the individuals is valued mainly because this is seen as serving the goals of the group. It is mostly about getting students to check the boxes and about reaching the goals of a greater entity. It breeds compliance and task completion. And it kills creativity.
Upon more reflection, I noticed different qualities surfacing later in my career. Gone were those days of desiring to display a pretentious aura of perfection. I had grown from the struggles in my career and personal life enough to be able to speak to students on the importance this mindset would play in their lives. I spoke to my students about a vision I had for them of being better thinkers and problem solvers in and outside of the classroom, making no mention at all of any benefit to a school, corporation, or state. Building on that, student choice and voice became more common in the classroom. It wasn't always successful, but it was valued. I tried innovative methods and technologies, not because they were popular buzzwords, but because they had the potential of enhancing student talents and bringing them closer to realizing the vision we had for them. I look at these and see qualities that closely align with servant leadership. Servant leaders put the vision they have for their group above any vision they have for themselves or greater entity.
Maybe we find ourselves in front of a class each day without a moral vision of personal growth for each student. That doesn't make us any less of a leader. It simply makes us the type of leader who leads for reasons besides the benefit of our students. We are leaders, unintentionally or intentionally. When you decide to lead intentionally, those visions become those that benefit students. It's obvious to me what type of leader students in classrooms all across the world need. Which one are you? If you find yourself in the position of transactional, it's not the end of the world. I am proof that growth can and does take place. It all starts with that first unselfish step outside of your comfort zone!