2020 was, among many things, a year of firsts. The first time a non-English language movie, Parasite, won Best Picture at the Oscars. The first time millions of people stopped their daily commute and set up a home office, classroom, or waited to resume their jobs and typical routines. The first Black Vice President, the first Asian-American Vice President, and the first female Vice President elected in the United States – Senator Kamala Harris. The first time for many people homeschooling their children, and for children to be attending school virtually. The first time a female athlete scored in a Power 5 Conference game in NCAA football (Sarah Fuller, Vanderbilt), the first female NFL coach to make it to the Superbowl (Katie Sowers, 49ers), and the first female General Manager appointed in the MLB (Kim Ng, Marlins). The first time Hallmark released a holiday movie with an LGBTQ storyline, The Christmas House. The first time one of the most commonly uttered phrases of the year was, “You’re on mute.” And, of course, the first time for most people to live through a global pandemic and navigate an unprecedented amount of disruption and change. While 2020 was a year of many firsts, there are a few things that we can count on to persist in 2021 and beyond. We can expect that unexpected change is a constant. We can expect that genuine connection is a basic human need. And we can expect that innovative, empathetic, and inclusive leaders are essential in guiding teams and individuals through whatever challenges and opportunities the future holds.
During this time of uncertainty and rapid change, the students, families, educators, and broader communities that we support and belong to need our strength, encouragement, and bold leadership more than ever. In order to be the calm, responsive, and joyful leaders we need to be to best support our loved ones through this challenging time, it is essential that we prioritize our own wellness so that we have the energy and resilience to bring our best selves to this work.
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In a world hyper-focused on influencers and celebrities, it is no surprise that professional athletes are often a top feature of our news or social media feeds. The news we hear about athletes may be rooted in their record-breaking accomplishments, their broader impact on our society or culture, controversial behavior, or even experiences with an unexpected setback or tragedy. And, whether you consider yourself an avid sports fan, follow a few particular sports, teams, or individual athletes, or only engage in sports conversations when they are forced upon you via workplace metaphors, undoubtedly the presence of some leading athletic competitors have at times entered your thoughts. Regardless of your knowledge, appreciation, or perception of elite athletes, as school leaders there is much we can learn from other professionals who have been leaders amongst their peers and achieved greatness in their craft. I wanted to explore some of the mindsets, habits, and commitments of a handful of professional athletes who are widely considered the GOAT (greatest of all time) in their particular sport, and how intentionally embodying some of these ideas can strengthen our impact as school leaders. As you read, I invite you to consider the lessons you can apply to your own role as leaders striving to impact the lives and futures of students, families, communities, and educators you serve.
Imagine a school in which every classroom you enter, you’ll find curious, joyful students engaged in meaningful learning, and teachers who are responsive to the needs of all learners. All teachers are instructional and cultural leaders of their own classrooms, and students are safe and cared for in their classrooms. Sounds pretty great, right? Now imagine the same school, with the same high levels of rigor, engagement, and psychological safety, with the added element of teacher leadership that extends beyond the walls of individual classrooms. While this may seem like a subtle change, the potential impact is tremendous. In order to provide an excellent education for all students, we must develop excellent schools, not just strong individual classrooms. And in order to achieve this ambitious and important goal, school leaders must view and support all teachers to serve as true leaders within their school communities.
It’s that time of year again. Wildflowers are blooming (at least here in Texas!). The sun is setting later. Winter jackets are being retired. The season is changing around us, just as it is in our schools. Around the country, test prep and standardized testing season are in full swing. End-of-year projects and field trips are approaching – and teacher appreciation week is coming up in the second week in May! As a teacher, it warmed my heart to receive kind words and tokens of appreciation from students, families, and administrators during teacher appreciation week, and I especially valued these thoughtful expressions as my emotional gas tank was running on empty during this stressful time of year. As a school leader, I organized massage chair appointments and sweet treats delivered to classrooms with the goal of making sure our teachers knew how much their work and contributions mattered to our school and community. While these gestures are important, thoughtful, and uplifting, one week of appreciation is simply not enough to propel the kind of lasting culture that truly highlights and amplifies the profound work of our teachers year-round.
“I don’t think I would have made it through that year without her.” “His support and confidence in me helped me grow and achieve in ways I never had before.” “She pushed me to change the way I think about my work and my life, and I am a better person for it.” In a recent conversation with a group of district leaders, each individual reflected on key benchmarks in their careers that profoundly impacted their leadership trajectory. While there were many experiences, decisions, and opportunities discussed as moments that helped to shape their path, each individual credited a specific person, specifically a coach, as the most important contributing factor to who they are as leaders today. Based on the reflections each leader shared about a coach they have worked with, it is clear the impact that these coaches had is both powerful and lasting.