Build your legacy: How leading with compassion, empathy and community supports teacher development
by Dr. Allison Violette, on 4/4/19 9:04 AM
“The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” - Kalu Ndukwe Kalu
The legacy of an education leader spans far beyond good test scores or improving student outcomes. Most of an administrator’s legacy is a lasting impact on teachers.
We all know teachers deserve better – better learning opportunities, support to follow passion projects and recognition for the great experiences they're already creating for their students.
How can you lead teachers as an administrator or district leader and leave a legacy of support? Lead with compassion, empathy and community. Here are some ways to get started:
Listen. Be present in the moment.
A compassionate leader listens to the needs of teachers and builds relationships with them. Teachers deserve to be heard. While this may seem like a daunting task, and you’re probably thinking through the improbability of talking to every teacher every day, start small. As a school leader, spend 10 minutes each day learning something new about one person. Walking the school each morning was one of the best ways for me to do this. I made mental notes or sometimes jotted sticky notes so I was sure to check in on individuals, both personally and professionally. As a district leader, put yourself where the teachers are. Find events or opportunities at schools that showcase teacher work. Get to know these teachers and make genuine connections. You’ll likely learn something about yourself in the process, too.
Identify strengths, not weaknesses, and use those strengths to fuel your team.
When you build relationships with your teachers, you uncover strengths you may not know have existed. Empower teachers to harness these strengths and leadership skills to provide quality learning opportunities for others. Demonstrate a willingness to participate and collaborate with other educators in the learning process. Teachers deserve leadership opportunities. Give them freedom and safe spaces to try new things. Invite them to lead professional development (PD) sessions or to plan a community event they’re passionate about. As a district leader, model this for your own team and highlight their strengths as they support teachers.
You don’t have to know all of the answers as an education leader. You sometimes won’t even know all of the right questions to ask. We’re all life-long learners. Being vulnerable and showing the educators around you that you’re willing to learn with them is powerful. The role of a leader is not to be the expert but to be the facilitator for teachers, and to learn alongside them. Teachers deserve your vulnerability. Be human. Show them they’re not isolated.
Be open to shifting your mindset.
Showing support looks different for every teacher. It’s ok to break traditional practices and strive for what will make a long-term impact on your teachers. At the district level, I had the privilege to work with advisory groups comprised of teachers from around the district, often organized by subject level or grade level. Through video calls and in-person focus groups, we created a feedback loop where curriculum specialists and I were able to hear ideas and pain points, then directly shift our plan to fit teachers’ needs. Some of the best ideas and most impactful PD initiatives came out of these groups because we were open to change. Shifting your mindset often means taking risks. Teachers deserve a change.
Build a community.
When I reflect upon my time in the classroom, what helped me grow most as an educator was the people around me. I had a solid community that challenged me to become a better teacher. Forming community is easier said than done, but you’d be surprised at the organic communities that have already formed within a school or district office. Learning is social, so provide teachers with the flexibility to network with one another and develop new skills. Encourage teachers to go beyond the school walls virtually to connect as well. As a school or district leader, encourage formal and informal learning experiences through social media or online platforms. Model the Community of Practice you want for your school or district: intentional, purposeful, inviting and impactful. Teachers deserve a strong network of support.
Being a school or district-level administrator can be difficult. Trust me, I’ve been there. It may seem like it’s always up to you to fix any problems that arise. But I’m here to remind you of the impact you can make. Leave a legacy at not just your school or district, but on education as a whole. Because teachers, and ultimately students, deserve the best we can give them.
To learn more about building Communities of Practice, click here.