A few months ago, Dr. Ziegler reached out to me via Twitter to see if I would be interested in contributing a guest blog on lessons from young leaders. I was greatly humbled by this offer, and I immediately started contemplating blog topics. What do I have to share that is worthy of other school leaders’ attention? While I still may not have the answer to that, I kept coming back to one thought – Be Genuine.
I will go ahead and publicly admit it – I am a millennial. The words sting on their way out. I’ve always been told I have an “old soul,” which is a complement to me. I identify more with Gen-Xers, but that’s a post for a different day. We millennials get a bad rap for our lack of authenticity, as many people don’t perceive us as genuine. Starting in college, my leadership role model has been John Wooden. So, ironically, for this post on lessons from young leaders, I’m taking my cues from one of the greatest, most authentic leaders, born in 1910. Each lesson is a quote from Wooden, and I’ll elaborate on what they mean to me as a school leader.
Lesson 1: Nothing will work unless you do.
This is a lesson that my parents taught me very early on in my life. If you’re not willing to work hard and better yourself every day at the things in which you strive to be successful, then don’t be surprised when you fall short. As a school leader, it is important that teachers can expect that you will work as hard as you can on the things in your charge. Part of being an authentic leader is being a person willing to take any challenges head on. This can present itself in many different forms, especially depending on your role in your school. In our building, each assistant principal has distinct responsibilities. Mine come in the form of curriculum and instruction. Each member of our admin team puts in hours and hours of hard work specific to their responsibilities. We value hard work, and we don’t stop until the job is done. I love that about our team. For me, hard work looks like:
Collaborating with teachers on mission, vision, and goals
Providing top-notch, personalized professional development
Learning as much as I can, as often as I can
Providing resources and feedback to teachers
Lesson 2: Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.
This is one of my favorite quotes by Coach Wooden. It’s his way of saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Every single day, we are faced with stressful situations. Every single day, we could let that stress bog us down, and start to make us truly unhappy, and nobody wants to work for an unhappy leader. As administrators, we see students who really struggle. It may be behavior, academics, mental health, a trauma-filled student, or any combination of the above. We also navigate stressful situations with other adults in the building, and work to find resolution for all. There are days when you get to your desk at 4:00 pm and feel truly beaten down. We’ve all been there. But, if at the end of the day, you know in your heart that you did well by students and staff in the building, things have a way of working out. Now, back to Lesson 1 from above – things don’t necessarily “work themselves out.” They work out because of the hard work we put into each situation in our care. Here are the biggest takeaways from this lesson:
Keep a positive outlook, there is always a way to successfully navigate through a given situation. Your positivity has to be genuine, or people will see right through it.
Reflection is key. If you feel like you didn’t make the best out of a situation, change your actions for next time. The most authentic leaders are the ones who learn from mistakes.
Lesson 3: Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.
As I grow in my career, I find a lot of value in this “Woodenism.” It’s easy to surround ourselves with like-minded people who agree with what we have to say. It’s much more difficult to search for those who dissent from the way you think. Now, at the end of the day, we know we are in the business of doing what’s best for kids. People have various deep-rooted values of what this actually means. As a leader, if I can find those smart people who are willing to respectfully disagree with me and we can have a productive, collaborative conversation about our disagreements, we all leave that room as better people. Develop a team of leaders who you can have honest, frank conversations with, even if it means you disagree. These conversations aren’t easy, but they are essential for growth, learning, and progress. In our school, we are making slow and steady changes towards a Project Based Learning approach. If we don’t listen to people who disagree with us, we may end up overlooking some very important aspects of what is necessary in our school. Don’t surround yourself with “Yes” people. Take a lesson from Coach Wooden on this one.
As a young leader, I hope to make it clear to students and staff that I genuinely care about them as people and that I will work hard day in and day out to see through our mission. It’s important as a young leader to focus on values that transcend generations. The things I mentioned today: hard work, making the best out of any situation, and genuinely listening to others, even those who disagree; I hope they speak to a leader of any age.
Megan Black - Assistant Principal at Olathe West High School
This is her first year in this position, as this is the first year of Olathe West’s existence. OW was built on the concept that learning happens best when it’s authentic and relevant to students. They focus on project based learning, in a community-based approached. Prior to her current role at Olathe West, Megan served as assistant principal at Eudora High School, and as a Spanish teacher in the Gardner-Edgerton School District and also in the Olathe School District.
Follow Megan on Twitter at @MaBlackOW