I have “risen to the top” of many community organizations – Bowling League President, Church Elder, PTA President, President of the NJ Association for Middle Level Educators, many just a matter of default. I am a certified “supervisor” in the state of NJ, but never became an administrator. That does not mean that I was not a school leader in the district. In fact, the positions I held and roles I played while being a teacher required true leadership skills. The ability to make good decisions, collaborate with stakeholders, and handle complex situations requiring an action plan were crucial to the role that I played as a Team Leader (who met regularly with team members, administration, and parents) and Union president (who met regularly with members, administration, board members, and state union reps with complex needs, wants and agendas). But it didn’t end there – those same leadership skills were valuable in the classroom, too. Having the skills/tools to prioritize tasks, address complex needs, participate in child study team decisions, manage behaviors, and collaborate with parents, colleagues and administration was invaluable.
Born to Lead
My natural born leadership abilities (aka my ability to speak in front of large crowds) was enough, in some cases, to get the job. However, as I learned some of the basic skills of leadership (through summer leadership institutes and graduate work in education), it became clear that using strategies and frameworks during meetings took emotionalism out, let people’s voices be heard and helped me develop trust. I did not seek out the skills, thinking that my ability to speak in front of large crowds would be enough, however – once I learned a strategy, it became clear how a rational process could help me.
Enter, a professional development opportunity- ASCD and the Tregoe Education Forum were bringing teacher and administrative teams together to teach us basic problem solving and decision making strategies to bring back to our schools. My job was to learn the strategies and figure out how to get kids to learn them. You know the story – teaching something is one of the best ways to learn and understand something. Eventually, the lessons that members of the nationwide consortium developed evolved into an online discussion tool called SCAN. SCAN is an acronym for the critical thinking strategy that allows you to take apart a complex situation, (See the issues, Clarify the issues, Ask what’s important, and Now, Name next steps). TregoED made a whole library full of common core reading and writing exercise on engaging scenarios using a private online discussion platform totally free. A great way to sneak some critical thinking on relevant issues in the classroom. But, I digress.
Transparency and Rational Thought Works Every Time
The value of the problem solving and decision making strategies I learned, however, went beyond my classroom and became integrated in all aspects of my life, having the biggest impact on the leadership roles I played in education.
Having those strategies in my back pocket, allowed me to take on big emotion-laden issues – negotiations, grievances, parent and community concerns – with confidence. Instead of being overwhelmed with issues and concerns, agendas and politics, ulcers and skin rashes, I had a transparent strategy that allowed all to be heard and considered in a rational and strategic way.
Having those skills not only benefitted the people that I represented, but it also benefitted the people that I needed to work with – school and district administrators, parents, community members, students and colleagues. While it doesn’t hurt to be able to step up to any microphone, being the most powerful voice in the room won’t get you far for long. True leadership, on any level, from the classroom to the district office, from the bowling alleys to the PTA meeting, embraces all constituents and issues, is based on trust and collaboration, and finds a way to develop the best possible solutions for all.
Leadership skills? Who Doesn’t Need Them?