What is Leadership?

This post has been brewing in my brain for quite some time. I have struggled to find the words or even figure out what I want to say.  The reason for this is that this year has been a personal struggle for me. There has been a lot of struggle both professionally and personally.  I have struggled with how to put into words my feelings and thoughts about these struggles. I didn’t want to come across as blaming or pointing fingers and I didn’t want to have a pity party either. But these struggles have really made me question the role of leadership and more importantly my role in education.

I have struggled to find a balance between innovating and doing what I think is best for my students while balancing what others view as important. At times, I have felt very alone this year.

However, today I was reading the Lost Art of Listening and came across this quote:

Please ignore the single letters for words, Twitter does only allow 140 characters. The book is by Micheal Nicholas. I haven’t finished it all but so far have been struck by many of the thoughts.

This particular quote struck me because it summarized my feelings and struggles. As someone who likes to consider himself an innovator, I have been struggling with the question, “who supports the innovators? Who helps them when they fall or struggle?” Personally, I think that falls in the realm of leadership but from experiences and stories, this is not often the case. Too often I hear struggling stories like mine that innovative voices can be squashed or told to hold back. Now there are so many great leaders out there and many of reached out to me throughout these struggles to help and offer advice. I also know there are many reasons and I understand them but there needs to be a balance as well.

In hopes of not pushing the blame to anyone, I want to relate this back to some of my learning as a leader. I have had the privilege of being part of two Teaching, Leadership, Learning Programs or the TLLP (this is an Ontario Grant for experienced Teachers). These projects are to help experienced teachers have their own PD run by teachers, for teachers. As the lead learner, it has taught me so much on how to help my fellow colleagues feel the same passion as me and to also buy into the projects I proposed.  When I first started with the project I often felt, people should be doing this because it is good for kids and is the best pedagogy. I often took the bull in a china shop and tried to firmly persuade colleagues to follow me. I quickly learned this is not how you handle people. As the quote suggests it is not you trying to change people but you changing yourself to help others grow. This has been my biggest learning as a leader: where is everyone else and how do I as a leader help them grow?

Being part of the project has reshaped my philosophy on being a leader. I try to build better relationships, I try to connect more with various people and yes I try to listen more. This last one I am not as successful as I would like but I am working on it.

So how does this all come back to struggles? As leaders, we need to be there for our colleagues, staff, and school. It isn’t hey do as I say and not what I do. It isn’t here is my buzz words but in reality, this is what I mean. And it isn’t I want your input but only if it agrees with mine.

For me, leadership is defined by the relationships you build. It is about allowing others to grow their own way, while you offer the security blanket for them to try new things out. It is about being there when they fall, listening (truly listening) to struggles and only offering advice when they ask. I can relate it almost to raising a child. You can only do so much teaching eventually you have to let go and be there to support. You want your fellow colleagues and staff to know you are there without being there. The quiet sage or guide. A leader also knows when to pipe up with words of advice or a question but without coming across as judgmental or demanding. It is a hard balance and I know I don’t always do this but I was reminded about this today while reading the book.

My hope with this post is just to make us reflect on our leadership. I firmly believe that we are all leaders in our own right. We have the potential to help and change the profession. The question is how will you do this?

The question is how will you do this? If you’re a leader how will you or how do you support all your staff and learners?

I’d also love hear your thoughts on this. If you have any please leave a comment below.

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Author: MrSoClassroom

I am a grade school Teacher, promoting creativity and exploration in all of my students. My classroom is always in a state of Inquiry.

14 thoughts on “What is Leadership?”

  1. The best leaders I have worked with have definitely fulfilled what you have written above – they have also demonstrated compassion and an understanding of individuals’ needs – meeting them where they are (ie. PD w choice; working just beyond comfort zones).

    Also, and I say this a lot, humans need to feel valued, so find ways to show your colleagues that they have value, whether noticing something they are awesome at, or asking their advice in the realm of their specific strengths.

    Note: I also noticed that you wrote that you could be a better listener, but I clearly remember that your students commented on how good you are at listening. Interesting. Are you being hard on yourself? Or do you listen more with students than colleagues?

    Thank you for sharing your reflections. I learn so much from your posts.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Melissa, You are so right in your comments. That is what the book suggests, humans need to be valued. As for me, my biggest critiques are often that I need to listen more. I have had this my whole life. This year I have really tried to listen intently. My problem often lies with my lack of focus. My brain computes too much sensory and I have a hard time focusing on just one conversation. This does seem to appear that I am not listening when in fact I am. Also, I do tend to be hard on myself.

      You mention that the best leaders are the ones that do what I have mentioned but yet I still hear lots of stories of the opposite, are these leaders few or do we expect too much? How can we get all leaders to see the compassion and understanding?

      Thanks again for the comments

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      1. And I honestly feel that some human beings are just more compassionate than others. Love Meyers-Briggs personality inventory (www.16personalities.com). Really helps me understand the root of the perspectives of others. Should only certain personalities be leaders? We can’t change a person so that they fulfill good leadership qualities. Yes, leaders can learn to better interact with others, but when placed in challenging situations, I believe they will revert back to who they really are and respond accordingly.

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  2. Thanks for your words, Jonathan. I have had similar thoughts lately as I prepare to return to my classroom. I wonder about what kind of support I will have from my leaders, and also about how I can continue to be a leader who is truly working ‘from the middle.’

    I have been away from my school for three years. Before I left, I flew under the radar. Now I am considering ways I can be present in my school community, listen well, and invite my colleagues to learn alongside me. I am afraid of being too vocal, but don’t want to hide in the shadows like I did before.

    I’m considering how to find balance in my relationships with colleagues so that they understand that, despite what I have learned outside the classroom, I am still feeling vulnerable as I stumble back into my role with students. I want them to know that I need them as much as they need me.

    Maybe being a listener is about being vulnerable? Or open? It certainly requires trust…at least as long as the conversation is a meaningful one.

    Thanks again for your words. It is nice to read thought that echo mine in some ways. Thank you for your leadership! 🙂

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    1. Amy thank you so much for your comments and your kind words. I find that being in the middle is the best type of leader but one that will need a lot of balance and navigation. I think that you hit the nail on the head about vulnerability but I think it is a lot of hearing people out. It can be draining but to shift I think you have to be able to know where colleagues concerns are and how you can fit them into the vision you have. It’s almost like you are in the shadows but whispering all the way. Reminds me of the movie angels in the outfield. The angels came down from heaven and helped out the baseball team. They were there helping and moving but no one could see them.

      I know there are all types of leaders out there but the truly effective ones are the ones that allow their followers to hear the vision and feel a vital part of it and that takes a lot of listening.

      Thanks again for your comments and good luck this year. Let me know if I can help in any way.

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  3. Jonathan,
    Your post really struck a chord with me! I have also struggled this year with understanding the qualities of an effective leader. I wholeheartedly agree with Melissa when she said that, “humans need to feel valued”! When people feel unappreciated they become disengaged. In my experience, many people listen to respond vs listening to understand! Listening to understand is definitely is a skill that requires a conscious effort and a lot of practice. I too, have been working on that and I believe that by trying to be an more active and engaged listener, I will have more effective and valuable interactions with my colleagues and administration. I also agree that building relationships is at the core of our work! Relationships mean everything! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Here’s hoping that we both have more positive experiences this next school year!

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    1. Hi Karen thanks for the comments and sharing your feelings. It is sad that many teachers have simular experiences. Bottom line is we all want to be heard even leaders but I think as a leader it is more important to be the listener and see how your relationship can help move or change. Too often I feel leadership these days are do as I say…..period. here’s to better years.

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  4. First I think you are stronger at listening than you think. I know we have had a few convos around our beliefs and our own children’s education and I always come away from those convos feeling valued, supported and listened to.
    I think sometimes leadership & serenity poem go hand in hand, we can only change the things we can & have to accept the things we can’t. Not everyone is ready to take the journey, as leaders we have to accept where colleagues and even those above us are at. We can lead by example but not force. We can encourage but not demand. We have to be patient with the journey.
    You are not alone in your struggle, as this year I have heard it from several colleagues. The fact that you are reflecting and seeking to understand shows leadership. All the best on your continued journey.

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    1. Thanks Colleen. I like that comparison between listening and the prayer. I guess where I’ve been struggling is how do leaders support those in the school that want change but may have different views then there own? How do we work with all kinds of minds without alienating or discouraging.

      As for my listening it has come a long way…lots of reflecting and lots of making an effort to do this. Thanks again for the comments and the kind words.

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  5. Thank you for this post Jonathan. I find too often that when we encourage others to come along with us, that they are not ready for the ride. They are not invested yet, and may not see the big picture.
    I also find that when you lead by doing, that others can see the results, which comforts those who may not be as risk taking. Then, they wish that they were along for the ride all along.
    I find with the power of Twitter that thousands of incredible ideas are shared, modified, and created every day. It has highlighted many success stories, challenged us to better and most importantly, brought together professional learning networks to a solitary career.
    I find myself both inspired and uninspired, motivated and unmotivated, assured and not assured when using Twitter to build my PLN. There are so many great things to be doing, that there will never be enough time, or benefits to my students and myself.
    I would continue to reflect as your leadership grows, and know that it’s not a straight or easy pathway. One of my favourite images shows success in two ways. One, “what we think” shows a straight line. The other, “reality”, shows a tangled mess leading to success. I often think of this when a setback happens.
    Thank you again for posting this 🙂

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    1. Melissa, thank you for the comments. I too find that some are not ready for the ride but I think that is our job as leaders to help beyond just doing things in our classroom. I really think that we can move our staff and colleagues more by finding out what they are doing and seeing if we can tweek one thing towards our goal. What do you think?

      As for twitter I often find it nice to see that I am on the right track or that my ideas aren’t too far out there. I think that you have to pick and choose what you see and shift through the ideas to find the right idea for you.

      As always reflecting seems to be what I do and I hope that my leadership keeps growing. This post was more of a way to comment on leadership and how we can cultivate it in our own school climate. Thanks again for the comments.

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      1. I definitely agree with finding out more about what our colleagues are doing, and seeing how we can support them. Some of the most successful learning for myself and my students has come from a result of partnerships between classrooms and teachers. One of my goals this past year was to build on this, and foster partnerships wherever possible. I hope to continue this too in the next school year, both in my school and digitally.
        Over the years, I find building on colleague’s strengths, providing a listening ear, and appropriate encouragement helps to cultivate leadership in those that are ready for leadership. Reflection is a large part of leadership, and I find that often I hear colleagues talking about the moment that they realized that they were on the right track. It’s definitely the same with our students. We help to build in the importance of reflection over the school year, through their learning. I would think that we need to do the same with our colleagues too.

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  6. Appreciate your candid thoughts. I have done a lot of thinking (from my course this summer, prepping for TLLP and just in general) about what leadership means and how important relationships are for it. I think there are parts of this I took for granted in my first school – a place where the respect I gained from others through years of working together and trading ideas. And despite all of this, there were too many times where it was lonely. I left that school, in part, to find new ways to grow. But also, to find the other lonely leaders.

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