Last week at our Region 1 Superintendent’s Professional Development Series, I had the privilege of hearing Tom Murray speak to district leaders in our surrounding area, highlighting the 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools from the book Learning Transformed that he co-wrote with Eric Sheninger. It’s always a joy to reconnect with Tom; he is approachable and genuine in his sentiments and a great presenter with an inspiring message to share. In fact, we were so excited to see him again that we crowded around to snap our customary “We are so happy to have you here!” selfie at the conclusion of his presentation:
One of the slides in his presentation lingered with me throughout the week and gave me pause: Am I a Leader by Title or a Leader by Action?
I began my journey as an educator twenty-one years ago. Since that time, I’ve held many titles:
- Second grade teacher
- Third grade teacher
- Fourth grade teacher
- Differentiation Specialist
- Instructional Technology Resource Teacher
Just last month I added another title to that list: Mechanicsville Elementary Teacher of the Year.
I’ve also held other titles throughout the past two decades:
- Assistant Manager
- Small Business Owner
- Course Instructor
- Key Communicator
- Communication Secretary
- Grade Level Chair
- Committee Chair
- Social Media Conference Chair
- Conference Presenter
- Keynote Presenter
- Licensed Administrator
Then I reflect on my non-professional life and the titles I’ve held there:
Each title has its own set of qualifiers and each is prominent in its own right. But does a title alone make me a leader to inspire others to learn more, dream more, become more?
In one word: No.
Leaders by Title rely on the history of their position to set the trajectory of their path. Their title affords certain privileges automatically and they work within these parameters. They usually have other people who fall under their realm of management and dutifully provide direction to set the course ahead. The work gets done, and often done well, but when the task is complete the work ends. Personal growth is not a priority from a task that is guided by a Leader by Title.
There are some Leaders by Title who take their position to the extreme and abuse the automatic rights given to their position. They invoke fear in others to get the work done or, even worse, dictate the mandates for work then take all the credit, never offering so much as a “thank you” to those who gave of their time, energy, and knowledge. These types of leaders are the ones who unknowingly undermine culture, making rifts that eventually split and divide.
Leaders by Action create their own legacy. While their role specifies the path, each day is defined by what they do and whom they serve. They are willing to get in the muck and the mire with others and redefine their role depending on circumstances that arise. They uplift. They inspire. They empower. They model true leadership for others and encourage them along the way. They celebrate the accomplishments of others and give credit where credit is due.
Yesterday I attended our district’s Arts & Science Festival, an annual celebration of the amazing work the students in our district create through the year. This event is a long-standing tradition in our community and for those who have lived here a long time, it becomes a family reunion of sorts. No matter where you walk, you will most likely see a familiar face smiling back.
This event would not be possible without the tireless dedication of many Leaders by Action. Dozens of teachers and administrators have spent the past few weeks compiling student projects, printing labels, creating personalized letters for parents, all in preparation for this event. Some spent late nights double-checking digital projects, making sure nothing was misspelled and all the links were active. Friday afternoon, those same volunteers delivered all the projects to one location, set up displays, taped artwork to walls, and created interactive areas for independent exploration.
From the hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Leaders by Action arrived and volunteered their time (on a Saturday!) to do the work that most definitely didn’t align with their role as a Leader by Title.
They greeted guests at the door with a smile.
They distributed maps of the school and guided parents to student projects.
They arrived early to practice with students before their performances.
They walked the halls and interacted with guests.
They were visible. They were smiling. They showed us by their actions the joys of servant leadership.
Since my youngest son had a soccer game that morning and my oldest son had plans for the afternoon, we went to the Arts & Science Festival in the middle of the day. I was there as a mom, but as many of you know, we never quite lose our “teacher title” when out in public.
Both boys had projects displayed in the festival, so we meandered through the school, enjoying the work of other students as we walked. We were awestruck by the gallery of greatness displayed by so many students in our district.
As we made our way back to the main lobby, I saw one of my students running towards me. The smile on her face could light up a room and the surprise in her voice when she caught my eye was priceless. She embraced me in a hug and turned her head to call to her mom.
“Mommy! Look! It’s Mrs. Letter! She’s my kindness teacher!”
It’s a title I never included in my list because, up until that moment, I hadn’t even considered it a possibility.
Leader by Action.
As we finished our embrace and she walked back to her mom, I heard her add as an afterthought, “Oh, and she teaches technology, too.”
Her final comment made me laugh out loud. It also made me realize what title I hold in this little girl’s heart. Being the “kindness teacher” ranked higher than my title of technology integrator, one I’ve proudly held for the past ten years.
Let us all embrace the qualities of a Leader by Action and redefine our role to others. Don’t allow your title to limit your potential for greatness! Shine in your skills and inspire others with words and actions each day!
Each and every one of us can be a Leader by Action – dive in and lead the way!
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