We need more school leaders in our schools. I’m not saying we need more principals or Central Office personnel. I’m not saying we need to have more degrees and titles. I’m saying we need more leaders. We need more people who are sharing the load in the ideas and events that draw us into being a school community. We need more leaders who are willing to step out of their classrooms and into the Big Picture of where our schools are headed.
These last couple of years, I have grown into an educator I am proud of being. It’s not because my students have reached 100% passing rates on any one exam, least of all state exams. It’s not because I’m better at teaching than you, or even because I have more than a thousand Twitter followers. Although, I do feel pretty good about that last one. Ha!
I’m proud of myself because I went back into the classroom three years ago out of financial desperation, but I never looked at teaching as just a paycheck. Everything I do in my classroom and school is to grow something larger than myself. I want kids to like school. I want MY KIDS to want to go to school. I want kids to be inspired and know that even as young people, they have so much to offer their community and the world at large.
I’m sure there are people who think I’m a sad sucker who will do anything admin throws at me, but I don’t do what I do because of admin. I do what I do because I understand the importance of my impact in my students’ lives, in their parents’ lives, and how it plays out in our community. I am purposeful about connections. I grow them and they flourish. But before flourishing, I have heavy conversations, meetings, and conferences. I spend time getting to know and encouraging others. I build up the people around me because I see how it builds me up, too.
I’m a school leader, but I’m not a perfect teacher. I mess up…a lot. I make mistakes…a lot. I piss people off…a lot! But my faith keeps me humble, the Spirit convicts me and opens my eyes to my errors, and together these two things help me apologize and forgive others. I’m a school leader because I know people come first. They come before any paperwork, are the reason for paperwork, and loving people makes me stop what I’m doing and notice others. I do not walk down the halls with my head down. I acknowledge and engage my peers and every student who crosses my path. Watching them light up because I engage with them is worth the effort of getting out of my own thoughts. I have often been told that I am the first friend that new employees make when they come to our school. I actively seek out people who seem disengaged or lonely. I make friends with every grade level teacher, custodian, and cafeteria person. I’m a school leader because I know that each person, regardless of level of education or job title, has a high impact on our school community and the children in front of us.
But I get bitter. My mom used to tell me growing up, “It’s lonely at the top.” It’s lonely being a school leader. So many have given up and don’t understand why I continue to stress about things. So many of my peers never even reach a level of caring that I believe is necessary to do our job, and these things drain me. These people drain me, and I get bitter. And then I’m reminded that I don’t do the things I do because I’m trying to please people who will never be pleased. I do the things I do so my kids will love school. I do what I do so my students will love school. I do the things I do so my students’ parents will see the impact we have together as partners. I do the things I do because the work I do impacts this world in a positive or negative way and it goes far beyond my classroom.
We need more school leaders. We need more people to pitch in and form community in our schools, to get uncomfortable, to get out of their classrooms, and join us in sharing the load. If we could only teach and our students learned, then we wouldn’t be living in the world that I know. We need more people to form and share the vision of our school systems. We define the community of our school in how we respond to one another, how we lift each other up…or don’t. When there is a lack of peer support, I have also noticed there is a lack of support for our students. Positive relationships are not forming on any front, and this causes bitterness in many of us, and people find it much easier to leave than stay around in a toxic atmosphere. Who could blame them? Students are more inspired to find ways to get out of school than do complete assignments or try to learn in toxic school environments.
Tonight, at an event in our local city, many students came up to me and got a hug, but none of these students were in my classroom. They know me as the teacher who engages with them in the hallway or school event. They know me as the mom of Madi, Ben, and Lela. They know me as the loud teacher who sings a lot. And because they know me and there is trust, I’m not just a school leader, I’m a leader in my community outside of the building walls. I feel the weight of this, and I cherish it. Always, I am humbled.
We need more school leaders, not just newer technology and better lesson plans. Our purpose drives our impact, and if we don’t have impact, our students don’t have purpose. But oh, when we do have purpose, and we work together to achieve it, everyone in our community will feel the impact.