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Leadership Begins Before The Title 🎖️

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

green chalkboard in background, yellow cup with color pencils, books with half eaten apple. in front the words, "Beyond The Title: Four Lessons from Year One

A story is told about a child sitting and playing on the floor. His mother is in her chair, weaving together a tapestry. The child looks up, confused at what his mother is doing. Seeing the confused look on her son's face, the mother invites the son to take a seat in the chair next to her. She knew that changing the perspective of where the son looked would change the picture. When you look from below a tapestry, the individual threads may seem tangled and disconnected. Still, the tapestry's intricate patterns and cohesive beauty become apparent from above.

Reflecting on my first year as an assistant principal, it was hard to see the picture coming together in the thick of discipline, walkthroughs, emails, requests from upper administration, and the like. I was looking from the bottom! However, as I consciously changed my perspective, I began to witness the emergence of a remarkable and vibrant tapestry woven with unexpected colors and threads. Amid my reflections on the first year, I am eager to unravel the lessons that have gradually unfolded, revealing the profound insights and growth they have brought me. Let's explore the four most significant lessons I have learned in this transformative year as an assistant principal.

1. Leadership Begins Before the Title

Long before I became an assistant principal, I realized that a job title or position does not solely define leadership. It permeates every facet of our lives, extending its influence to our roles as teachers, coaches, and even within the intimate sphere of our lives as partners and parents. In my experience, leadership is not confined to a specific position; instead, it is a mindset and a way of being that transcends boundaries and embraces opportunities to make a difference. It's about taking responsibility, leading by example, and influencing others positively. Many of my colleagues make the mistake of thinking too highly of the position that they lose sight of its purpose. You, educational leader, are not there to flex this newfound power as a cover for your insecurities. You are there to serve. Failing to understand identity and management before you're in the seat means you make it up as you go along, damaging many in the process. Keeping your purpose in mind will prevent you from molding yourself to the admiration of people (a moving target you'll never hit 🎯) and give you the fuel necessary to disrupt where needed. Titles, power, and prestige can change you if you hang your significance on them alone.

2. Being Stretched Beyond Expectations

With ambition and determination, I walked into the role thinking I knew what leadership skills I had and what development I needed. I quickly learned that the responsibilities and demands of the role often exceed what we anticipate. It is a constant juggling act, being on call even when you are in the midst of personal situations that require your attention.

If you've ever witnessed the halftime show at an NBA basketball game, you might have seen the performance with the spinning plates. The act aims to balance and keep these plates spinning on poles. As the show continues, you wonder how much more the performer can take.

There have been countless occasions where I have received urgent phone calls or emails during evenings, weekends, and even holidays. Whether addressing a student's pressing concern, supporting a staff member in need, or handling unforeseen logistical issues, the responsibility to be available and engaged can sometimes feel overwhelming. Navigating these demanding situations requires adaptability, resilience, and the ability to prioritize effectively. It means being able to shift gears seamlessly, swiftly assessing the urgency and importance of each situation, and making sound decisions under pressure. It would be best if you remembered that while you are learning and growing in your role, others will try to define it for you with expectations attached. You must balance the tension of being supportive while avoiding being the sole means of solution. You must lead through others.

I have learned to embrace the unpredictability and to find moments of respite and self-care amidst the role's demands. Everything in your building that falls under 'duties as assigned' cannot and will not be solved by you. In addition, you must utilize the gift of tomorrow. I practice writing down key accomplishments and priorities for the next day at the end of the day. Prioritizing and remaining focused amidst challenges is vital.

3. The Art of Disappointment

It is impossible to please everyone. This has been one of my most challenging lessons as someone that struggles with people-pleasing tendencies. I have had to learn the art of saying no, setting boundaries, and telling the truth even when it may disappoint others. It is a delicate balance, understanding that our decisions are rooted in what is best for the greater good of the institution and the individuals involved. Regardless of where you find yourself, growth, change, and comfort do not typically coexist. To improve in any regard, you will make someone uncomfortable and disappoint them.

One of the most frustrating things is driving behind someone with their turn signal blinking for miles. With each street that passes, you consistently ask yourself, "When will they ever turn?" I've learned that the inevitability of disappointment should be coupled with this type of predictability. Just as we can anticipate the driver's failure to turn despite their signal, we can develop a realistic understanding that not everyone will meet our expectations or follow through consistently. By acknowledging this inevitability, we can adjust our mindset and approach. Instead of allowing disappointment to derail us, we can embrace a sense of predictability in human behavior and find alternative ways to navigate our paths. This realization has helped me develop a more measured response to letdowns, focusing on proactive solutions rather than dwelling on unfulfilled expectations. Embracing authenticity and transparency has been instrumental in navigating this aspect of leadership, enabling me to lead with integrity and remain faithful to my convictions.

4. Alignment of Gifts, Passions, and Frustrations

Imagine a conductor leading an orchestra. Each musician brings their unique instrument, skill, and passion to the ensemble. As they play their parts, the conductor listens intently, observing the interplay of melodies, the rise and fall of dynamics, and the collective expression of the music. In this orchestra of life, our gifts represent the different instruments we bring, each with its distinct sound and contribution. Our passions embody the energy and enthusiasm that infuse our actions and give life to our endeavors. And our frustrations serve as the contrasting notes that add depth and richness to the composition.

When we find ourselves in the right place, we've acted as the conductor who has orchestrated the composition in perfect synchronization. The melodies of our gifts blend seamlessly with the harmonies of our passions, creating a symphony of purpose and fulfillment. Even our frustrations find their purpose, acting as the minor chords that lend emotional depth and meaning to our journey. In this symphony of alignment, we become the conductor of our lives, guiding the diverse elements of who we are into a harmonious masterpiece.

Just as a symphony captivates its audience, our lives in alignment have the power to resonate with those around us. When we are in the right place, our actions and contributions become a beautiful melody that touches hearts, inspires others, and creates a lasting impact. In this symphony of alignment, we find a profound sense of fulfillment, knowing that we are precisely where we are meant to be, playing our unique part in the grand composition of life.

The challenges I encounter fuel my desire to bring about positive change and create a meaningful impact within the educational landscape. Despite the inevitable obstacles, I find immense fulfillment in utilizing my strengths, pursuing my passions, and striving to make a difference in the lives of students, teachers, and the entire school community. My first year has taught me a valuable lesson: I am precisely where I am supposed to be. It is a convergence of my gifts, passions, and frustrations.

Embracing the right view of all the ups and downs helps us create a meaningful and purposeful journey through harmonious alignment. This leaves a lasting impact on those we serve. As I move into year two, I'm embracing the highs and lows that help us grow as leaders and strive to orchestrate lives that inspire and uplift others, just like the beautiful symphony I am meant to conduct.

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