My journey in leadership has not been without challenge, and I’d be dishonest if I said there weren’t times when I was uncertain about my abilities. With experience, both the good and the bad, I’ve learned that doubting yourself every now and again isn’t abnormal. In fact, it helps keep you humble and lead with the same grace you want extended to you when, not if, you make a mistake. If there’s one thing I’m more comfortable with now than ever before, it’s the realization that perfection is not required of leaders. For many of us, we enter this work believing that our job as the leader is to make sure errors don’t happen, to remove obstacles, to avoid pitfalls, and do it all with flawless execution. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While it has taken me many years to come to this realization, I now know that our job is to demonstrate grace under pressure, to set an example of what resilience looks like when things go awry, to be the steady in the times of uncertainty, giving those we serve comfort and reassurance that things will improve and eventually, all will be well. That’s true leadership. It’s our ability to deal with imperfection, uncertainty, and the unexpected that makes us leaders.
In this present time of a global pandemic, this ability to lead under pressure, could not be more important. The country is looking to America’s educators to help return society to the first step of back to normal. Understandably, many educators, like parents and children are afraid. We are living in a world of unknowns, and the lack of control we now have over our everyday lives and our ability to protect ourselves and our loved ones is considerably different than it used to be. Dealing with COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for me. My socialization has been severely restricted. I’ve not been able to see my family on a regular basis, and I’ve missed many social events with friends and colleagues as we are all trying to do our part and stay safe. While my natural tendency is to plan ahead, this pandemic has taken away every measure of discipline I’ve worked so hard to establish. But I’m not giving up, and giving in isn’t an option either.
What leaders need to do now, more than ever, is simple. Unite the members of your organization. In a world where a public health crisis has been over politicized, folks are feeling forced to take a side. Instead, we need leaders who can pull the group together with a focus on what’s right-not who is right.We need to turn our attention away from attacking each other about our personal and political beliefs as educators, and apply that energy to those who are attempting to destroy a foundational cornerstone of American democracy-public education. Educators and those who understand that public education benefits our entire society need one voice, and they need it now. I fear that while many are focused on who is right, those who set policy, administer funds, and decide the future of public education will have stripped the very thing that we all love so dearly, and we will have missed it because we were too focused on who was right instead of what was right.
I challenge every leader, from superintendents, to principals, to teachers to find a way to focus on protecting the institution of public education by working to make it look like it can and should be. This is our chance. The uncertainty we are experiencing has opened a door for us to finally move away from a structure that no longer fits the needs of our children or our country. We have an opportunity to think about teaching and learning in new and unprecedented ways. If we are strategic, and more so united, we can do more than preserve the institution of public education. We can make it a system that works for ALL. We can reduce inequity. We can move away from the billion dollar standardized testing industry that drives our daily operations. We can focus on what children really need, addressing the whole child in a way we haven’t been able to before. We can do this.
Let’s be good stewards of the unknown by embracing this time as a time to reimagine our profession, to bring back the joy to teaching and learning, and to do what our children need us to do: be steady. This will not be an easy task, and it won’t be perfect. Let’s all lead during this uncertain time with the certainty that our profession and public education is a cornerstone of America’s democracy.
We’ve got this.