Love and Leadership: A Recipe for Success

I was recently speaking with a writer who was working on an article that highlighted advice and wisdom for new leaders. We talked about all the things you’d probably predict: trust, relationships, and communication. At the end of the interview she asked me if there was one central piece of wisdom that I thought every leader needed to know, and I answered: “Make sure love is at the center of everything you do.” In that moment, the thought came from a very natural and casual place, but after reflecting on that quite a bit, I’ve determined that love is a critical component to effective leadership.

Now there are a few points that I should clarify so that my sentiment isn’t misinterpreted. When love is at the center of your leadership, it doesn’t mean that you don’t address hard things or difficult situations. It means because you care deeply about helping those you serve become the best they can possibly be, you do the exact opposite. You challenge them, encourage them, and push them to grow, even when it is difficult. That’s real love; love with purpose.

I believe that it would be hard to find joy in leading if one does not love people, love the idea of serving for a purpose far greater than one’s self, and love the idea of having a positive impact on the lives of others. I’ve never been in love with the idea of being in charge, the boss, or the person who bears the weight of making the final call on major decisions. In fact, those are my least favorite things about leadership, and quite frankly I find that the idea that one is in charge is a grave fallacy that brings many of the wrong type of people to leadership.

What I love about leadership is the opportunity to help others, to support them in their growth and achieving their highest potential, to point out something great that they may not see in themselves, and bring people together around a common goal to make a difference in this world. I believe that’s what all good leaders love about leadership. They love the people and the purpose in equal measure.

I fell in love with leadership as a youngster. I loved the idea of bringing people together. Sometimes that meant getting everyone to agree to play kickball on the playground in elementary school, or encouraging classmates to bring in their can tabs on aluminum soda cans so we could see what a million really looks like, or serving on student council. What I found that I enjoyed is people, talking to them, supporting them, encouraging them, and most of all helping them. Helping others bring such joy to my heart because it is one of the simplest ways to give and receive love.

In a recent conversation with a colleague who was moving to a new school and somewhat saddened by it, I shared with her that the emotional pull she felt was absolutely normal. It’s the result of her investment in other people as a leader, and their investment in her. In fact, it’s the way it’s supposed to be, especially if love, a love for people and purpose, is at the center of all we do and why we do it as leaders.

I want to encourage leaders who are reading this blog post to think carefully about the role love plays in your leadership. If love isn’t at the center, it’s not worth doing. Let love be your guide!

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

Public Education’s Pandemic Opportunity

“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.”

From my blog post, Leading In Uncertain Times: A Call for Unity, July 26, 2020

There should be no doubt now. There should not have been any before the Corona virus took hold of our lives, our work, and our socializing. Public education is an essential cornerstone of American democracy. Our approach and operation moving forward must be one that honors the clear indication of the needed change to the way we conduct teaching, learning, and leading. Here are a few insights that come to my mind in this regard.

1. Leaders must become comfortable and competent at leading change. The future of public education is uncertain and the ability to adapt to the social and structural changes occurring in our world is going to be a critical component in leading effectively. Leaders who are future focused, visionary, and willing to utilize innovation and flexibility to produce better outcomes for both students and staff will outlast those who maintain a fixed mindset centered heavily on the management of people and operations rather than the creation of new opportunities and experiences.

2. The voices, needs, interests, and passions of students must be honored in the way we approach the teaching, learning, and assessment practices. Caring and trusting relationships and authentic connection with each student is of critical importance. If we don’t provide students with the personalized experience they desire and deserve, they may seek other avenues to equip themselves with the skills, knowledge, and characteristics they need and desire. Students will demand and develop a sense of community with or without pubic education’s invitation. To combat this, we must work to ensure a sense of belonging and affiliation for every student we educate coupled with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in authentic ways.

3. The post-pandemic successful teacher must be provided with personalized professional learning opportunities and given the flexibility to innovate in his or her classroom. Further, the voices of teachers must be honored in what we ask of them and how we support their efforts to provide students with high quality, meaningful, and relevant learning experiences. These teachers will demand a sense of community and an opportunity to lead from their classrooms to improve their professional experience and the learning experiences of students.

Our ability to look forward towards a brighter and more equitable future in public education matters more than it may have ever before. The consequences of missing and failing to seize the opportunity before us are large and serious. Let’s make sure we’ve learned from our past, but more importantly, let’s ready ourselves for a better future for all of our children, those who serve alongside of us, and do so by redefining success for ourselves and our students.

Until next time-Be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

An Open Letter to America’s Educators for the 2021-22 School Year

Hey y’all,

I hope you are all taking some time to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit this summer. After teaching and leading during a global pandemic, I believe self-care isn’t just a good idea, but necessary to be your best self. If I’ve learned nothing else during COVID-19, I’ve learned to protect my mental health and to take mine and that of others seriously. Our wellness-mind, body, and spirit-matters.

But that’s not why I’m writing this letter. I’m writing to plead with each of you. Please promise me that you will not return to the past, “go back to normal,” or relish in the comfort of teaching, learning, and leading in the same ways you did pre-COViD. I feel compelled to remind you of the enormous opportunity we have before us. We know that many of those practices and routines we were allegiant to pre-COViD were not working-for our students, our families, or us! Yet, it can be so tempting to seek comfort, and especially so in times of uncertainty.

I’ll be the first to admit it: the future of public education is unclear. However, I hope we embrace this as a chance to create the future we know our students, their families, and our fellow educators so desperately need. This is an opportunity to finally abandon a system of mass learning, teaching to the middle, and conditioning students to care more about their G.P.A. than their passions. Let’s use this as an opportunity to design an education system that helps children find the intersection of their most competent skills and passions, to design meaningful and relevant learning experiences, that have timeless value and enduring lessons.

I know what you’re thinking. How do we do that? What about the tests? What about school report cards? What if it doesn’t work? What if we fail?

I’d like to counter those thoughts by asking these questions: Why not? What if we improve the system for all involved? What if we redefine success? What if we create a new way of thinking about public education, it’s’ purpose, and value? What if we create a spark that draws the best and brightest minds to our profession? What if are children end up more ready for life that they’ve ever been before?

As much as we find comfort in routine, I hope we find the courage and execute the bravery it takes to chart a new course. We are either held hostage by our fear or made free by our courage. I’m choosing courage. Who’s with me? Our children deserve it. Our families deserve it. Our profession deserves it. We deserve a new day in public education. Look forward!

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

The Power of Pausing

The last three weeks have been an important time for me. I’ve had an opportunity to pause from the daily grind and routine. I knew I was in need of it, but I had no idea the extent to which I needed a moment to clear my heart, my mind, and be still and quiet. For the first time in a very long time I did not present at the South Carolina School Administrators Summer Leadership Conference. Instead, I was able to spend my time reconnecting with others I had not seen in person in quite some time, attend sessions as a learner, and make new connections as well. At the start of June, I was talking with a friend about how exasperated I was feeling, and I shared with her that I was uncertain if that feeling was due to COVID-19 and working during a pandemic, over extending myself in my desire to help anyone that asks for assistance, or if I was just in a season of being overwhelmed that was lasting a bit longer that I desired. My friend very simply encouraged me to put boundaries in place to take care of myself and to provide myself with time and opportunity to receive as much as I was giving to other people, work, and areas in my life. I needed to pause and be still. My mind, body, and spirit needed a clearing and a reset. The last two weeks have been exactly what I needed, and I’ve learned so much from pausing that I felt compelled to share it here in this blog post.

To clarify, pausing and stopping are not synonymous. There’s an important distinction between the two words that needs to be acknowledged. To stop means to come to an end, to close, but pausing is a brief interruption. Pausing allows us to remain engaged and committed to our purpose and life’s work while simultaneously taking a brief period to renew our mind, body, and spirit in ways that feed our hearts and souls what is needed for us for us to continue it journey. Think of a hiker who desires to complete an arduous trail hike. Pausing for water, food, or to observe nature allows for rest and renewal, and without it, the hiker’s ability to finish the journey is compromised. Leaders must do the same thing if we intend to complete our journey.

Secondly, pausing allows us to be fully present. When we are not at the mercy of email, the next meeting, the next due date, or deep in the throes of planning for the next big assignment, we can be fully present. Our undivided attention can be given to those things which are most important. We can fully engage without a lingering feeling that we are compromising our dedication to all the other things we need to get done. What a gift it is to be able to be fully present and in the moment. When we spend too much time anticipating what’s next, we can miss some of the most powerful experiences and interactions in our lives.

Finally, the benefits of pausing and what it can do for us afterwards is far more valuable than I ever realized. I feel with great certainty that my professional and personal interactions will be approached with a greater sense of positivity, and that my productivity levels will be much better than they would have been had I not had an opportunity to simply still my mind, body, heart, and soul.

I want to encourage leaders near and far to be sure to recognize when you need to press pause, and even more so be willing to do so. The people we are called to serve, care for, and lead will thank you for it, and you may find that you are a better and more present leader when you press pause too.

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

A Moment of Clarity

I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting and thinking over my last 22 years in education recently. I’m not sure if it has been initiated by COVID-19 and the challenges educators faced this school year, the last 18 months in my new position, or just the journey of life that pushes us along with age and experience. But what I now have concluded and know for certain, is that it’s time for me to explore, innovate, grow, and move forward on my own terms.

I’ve gained so much clarity about my journey which is far from over, and here are a few of my latest thoughts:

1. Don’t waste time waiting. If your value isn’t being seen and added to, move your feet.

2. Because time is so precious, I can no longer engage in inauthentic relationships, personally or professionally. My time and my talent are too valuable for meaningless interactions and surface relationships.

3. Investing in my own development must be a priority. I must balance the pouring out to support others with pouring into my own growth, and use boundaries to help make sure things don’t get out of balance.

I’m clear about that and ready to move forward with purpose. I encourage all of us to think forward, and caution us all to not spend too much time reflecting or living in the past! Time flies, but it doesn’t move backwards!

Until next time, be you, be true, be a hope builder!

Latoya

And Again…

#DaunteWright

How many more? When will it happen again?

I am tired. I am sick of it. I am sad. I am hurt.

I cannot believe so many White folks who I thought knew and cared about me have said nothing.

Ignorance.

Not watching the news right now.

But the day the Capitol was attacked. I heard from almost all of them. Wonder why?

Dear God,

Make it stop. Please.

Latoya

Education-An MVP of the Pandemic

This morning I participated in a Twitter chat, #pd4uandme after a little nudging from a colleague. The conversation was about naming educators in our lives who we saw as Most Valuable Players this year. I struggled to identify an individual because the year we’ve had in public education leads me to believe that every educator has been an EDU-MVP in the wake of this pandemic. I tried to think of one EDU MVP and immediately my mind was flooded with so many people, starting with my work family and all the way to my Edu PLN. It’s just too big to name one person. It’s been tough, but we’ve managed…by staying CONNECTED. Education is one of the Most Valuable Professions and has proven itself so during this pandemic.

I hope the spotlight on public education continues to shine in a way that honors our worth, promotes the recruitment & retention of excellent educators, & continues to elevate the profession-when the pandemic is over. Educators are integral to our democracy!

I hope folks will talk about the way educators stepped up and learned to pivot at a moment’s notice as much as they talk about learning loss. Our students need us and we’ve got work to do, but let’s be clear: It’s not because we haven’t put forth exceptional effort.

If I were forced to give an EDU-MVP award, I’d give it to the profession as a whole. When crisis arrived, we answered. We taught-by computer, cell phone, tablet, in 😷, provided meals to students & families, & mental health & SEL services. This shouldn’t go unnoticed.

When I think about how valuable educators have been to society during this pandemic & how valuable we are in general, it brings me great sadness to think we were first to serve, but in many cases will be last to be vaccinated. Our profession deserves better.

I don’t mean to get on a soapbox & don’t care to debate. I just hope we are the topic in conversations about how to honor, elevate, and uplift our profession post pandemic-not just in the ones about how we’ll be punished if the children don’t do well on the test.

We’ve proven ourselves to be much more than test scores.

Until next time, be you. Be true. Be a hope builder!

@latoyadixon5

Time to Tell the Truth

There isn’t a single soul who should be surprised, astonished, or even shocked by what happened in our nations’s capitol this week. We all had more than context clues; we had evidence of what was to come long before it transpired: “Proud boys. Stand down and stand by.” Tell the truth.

The disrespectful and vile behavior of those individuals who chose to stain the hallmark of American democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, should be called what they are: domestic terrorists. Tell the truth.

And we all know that if those rioters who immersed themselves in the destruction of the consecrated halls and offices of the people’s house were not White, there would have been a lot more blood shed and a slaughtering of Black and Brown bodies left for dead. Remember, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts?” Tell the truth.

The time to use precise language about what happened this week is now. There is no need to construct vague sentiment that doesn’t put you in a predicament of having to defend your position or opinion. Right vs. wrong isn’t a matter of opinion, and the fact is that what happened was wrong. If you have difficulty seeing this, consider the wise words of my Mother: “There is no right way to do wrong.” Tell the truth.

We know the consequences of not telling the truth. We saw them live and in living color on our televisions and social media feeds this week. When those who call themselves leaders embrace lies-big or small-they should not be surprised that those who follow them believe them. And further, when those followers act on what they’ve been sold as truth, sentiments like, “Enough is enough,” isn’t good enough. One’s retroactive concern for himself is about the only transparent thing I’ve seen from these newly enlightened individuals.

Courage is not convenient, but it is precisely the way one can cement his legacy on the right side of history. And that’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

The Truth About Leadership: Part 3 – Resilience Is Required

One of my biggest challenges as a leader has been strengthening my resilience. From the outside, it may appear that I have approached challenges with vigor and persistence, pushing through tough situations and times with a smile. On the inside, there’s a different story. I’ve had to learn over the years not to replay my mistakes in my mind over and over and over again in an attempt to analyze where things went wrong. It’s taken me some time and a ton of experience to understand that healthy reflection includes resilience instead of a long period of deep self-disappointment. Acknowledge the error. Make note of what you could have done differently. And most importantly, move on, and do so with haste. In the early years of my leadership, mistakes seemed to linger longer than they should have and in ways that were not productive. I struggled greatly with being a perfectionist and became a pro at worrying about everything and anything. In 2017, I found myself in a toxic relationship with worry. Even now when I tell folks that they tend to look at me rather puzzled. They almost always say, “I’d never know it. You seem so confident.” But we all know things are not always as they seem. While my confidence is at the best level it’s been in my leadership journey, it hasn’t always been that way. I remember turning 40 in 2017 and thinking that I had spent what could potentially be half my life worrying, and on my birthday I decided I’d worry no more. My relationship with it had made me a leader who lacked resilience and I began to focus on bouncing back rather than being all consumed with making an error.

Here’s the truth about leadership: If you are a leader, you are going to make a mistake. The best thing you can do is spend time working on how you will move on and beyond your errors rather than wallowing in them. Analyze your relationship with reflection and make sure it isn’t toxic. We have a tendency to misrepresent what it means to be a reflective practitioner. Here’s what it doesn’t mean-over indulging in guilt, which can manifest into self-doubt and a lack of confidence. Self-doubt and humility are not synonymous, and all too often leaders operate as if that is the case. Humility means you recognize everything is bigger than you, including your purpose, and it is precisely the reason we ought to be more resilient in our leadership journey.

As a young student in elementary school, my teachers often wrote about how conscientious I was-it’s how I learned what the word meant (report card comments). It’s my nature. I want to do a great job and I was reared to always do my very best. Momma wasn’t having it any other way. But I have finally learned that my conscientiousness cannot be a handicap to my confidence. Leaders must believe in themselves, and we demonstrate that by practicing vulnerability and resilience in equal measure. It makes us more authentic and most importantly, it gives us freedom rather than fear. And we all know that freedom feels better.

Until next time, be you. Be true! Be a hope builder!

Latoya

@latoyadixon5

The Truth About Leadership: People Will Use You…If You Let Them.

I recently started thinking about how it is possible for someone to admire and enjoy your insights and ideas, and not be fond of you as a leader or as a person. If we can all learn from someone, it means we can even learn from people we don’t like or who don’t like us. And this is exactly why we must not confuse those, “I want to pick your brain,” requests for anything other than what they are-an exchange of ideas. Coming to this realization often leaves us feeling disappointed, dejected, and even used. That’s right. I said it: used.

As a leader there will be times when you feel used, undervalued, and like a pawn in someone’s game of chess. That’s why you cannot confuse someone’s desire for your insight, knowledge, and expertise, with an invitation for a friendship or an attempt to build a strong and trusting collegial relationship. Quite simply they want what you think, your ideas, and quite frankly may not give a damn about you as a person at all. When one comes to this realization it can hurt, especially if you’ve presumed that one had good intentions in asking for your insight.

The reality is this: Leaders who intend to be successful might work especially hard to have folks with right strengths, talents, and skills around them to help carry out their vision. Building a strong team with diverse experiences can help expedite success, but just because someone ask you to be on their team doesn’t mean they can fully appreciate you beyond your ideas and input. After all it is work, and that is the primary purpose of our professional experiences. And while we should not take it personally, we often do-at least I do. I tend to believe that when someone ask for my opinion, it is because they value me as a person and a professional, but over time I’ve learned not to confuse the two, and how important it is to not blend my personal identity with my professional reputation. While both impact each other, they are not the same. I am not my job. My job is not all of me. Each has its’ rightful place, but must remain in balance for an equally harmonious professional and personal life.

I hate feeling used. But I realize I am in control of the offerings I make, the connections I develop and sustain, and the insights I share and how I share them. I’ll be operating with a lot more intention in the coming year. Sharing, caring, and connecting with intention and deliberateness. While this will help me to make sure others do not take my intellect for granted or that I end up feeling used, it will mostly be a bold demonstration of self-love. Loving myself enough to know not everyone deserves access to my intellect. And I mean that in the most humble way of all.

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!

@latoyadixon5