Springtime in the state of Texas means the last push before the state assessment. Districts all over the state right now are giving students a released STAAR test from a previous year. This data tells teachers and administrators whether students are prepared for the “big test”.
This “crunch time” can be one of the most stressful times in education. You have your most reliable data in terms of how your students will perform on the state test. When you look at the data, and if it is not where you would like for it to be, there are two ways you can respond.
As hard as it may be, you should choose option two. Freak out at home. Freak out in your car on the drive home. Freak out in your office after everyone has left the building. Freak out for a bit and then get to work. Create a plan on how to get the students prepared in the 6-8 weeks you have left. Go before your team with confidence that you have a strong plan. Go before your team with great hope that together, as a team, you will reach your goal. This is the time where you show your true leadership skills. And if (or when) fear creeps in, remember, STAY CALM AND LEAD ON!
In education, if we don’t watch it, we can fall into the “I know what’s best for you” mentality. Yes, we know what the state requires us to teach. Yes, we know the content that the students don’t know. However, what we don’t know sometimes, is the student.
I participated in a career day recently. I was asked to “teach” the students, but at the end of the day, they taught me. I went into the day planning to talk about my career in education and my current position of Chief Academic Officer. In the first session, I quickly realized that I was looking into the faces of teenagers who were not interested at all in what I was saying. At that point, I decided to go in a different direction.
I asked who in the room wanted a career in education. Out of the roughly 15 students in the room, maybe 4 students raised their hands. The other students looked at me as if to say, “There is no way I want to teach!” At that point, I knew I had to share my career so the four students could hear what they needed to hear, but I also needed to share my life with the other students so they could get what they needed.
My role as Chief Academic Officer was interesting to those four who are interested in education. I even had one female student in the room whose goal was to be a superintendent. She explained that she loves to learn and wants to be in education to help others learn.
For the other students, I asked what they “wanted to be when they grow up”. Most of them knew what direction they wanted to go in life, but some did not. I then told them a portion of my life. I shared with them how I earned by college degree and began working in the career field of my dreams. I then shared how life changed and how the things that mattered to me changed… which resulted in a career change. At the age of 25, with a husband and pregnant with my first child, I decided to put my life on a different course. I changed careers from news broadcast to education and have never looked back.
For the students who didn’t know what they wanted to do in the future, I wanted them to know that it’s okay. Sometimes, you can think you know and things change anyway. What’s most important is that you follow your heart, do what you love, and everything else will fall into place.
I reflected on what I learned from that day. Because it’s not often that I am in a classroom interacting with students anymore, it was a valuable experience. I learned that we can have exceptional plans for our day. We can think we know what the students need. When we stand before the students, we can either go with the plan no matter what or we can pick up cues on what they really need and go in that direction. My lesson learned… let the students lead.
What leader doesn’t want a team that follows them with passion? What leader doesn’t want a team that has their back? What leader doesn’t want a team that is a joy to be around and they truly enjoy each other’s company? As a leader, these types of teams are a dream come true, but I have a challenging question for you… leader, are you that type of team member for YOUR leader?
Everyone has a supervisor or leader. In education, teachers report to the principal. Principals report to a central office level leader. Central office leaders report to a higher central office leader. The highest central office leaders report to the superintendent. The superintendent reports to the school board. There is no one in education who does not report to someone.
When you become a leader, it is easy to forget that you have now entered two worlds… one as a leader and one as a follower. We put much time and effort into being a great leader. We work to build relationships to build a strong team, but how much time and effort do we put into being a great team member for our leader?
Just as we try to build a great team for our direct reports, we need to be that same type of team member for our leader. We need to have his/her back. We need to take his/her vision and run with it as if it were our own. They should be able to trust us to get the job done exactly the way in which they would accomplish it… or better.
Leaders, do you follow your leader the way others follow you?
Frequent reflection of your work is absolutely essential for growth. Leadership reflections of my week:
Paula Patterson is a former principal who shares practical points on the principalship.