Tag Archive | leadership

Feathery thing

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“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul…” Emily Dickinson

I am blessed that I consistently receive reminders of  why I work in schools. Motivating young people is what I love the most about my work. I love school(I always have.) I love literature(I always have.)  The best part of my job is giving young people hope.

During Lent, I realized one of my students is an aspiring author. I thought it was important to let the student  know that the principal is an author too. The student was in need of motivation. To see a face light up? Que bonito! It was wonderful. When I saw the student again later in the day, I encouraged continued self-expression and to consider creating a blog. I talked about my favorite bloggers turned bestsellers, Luvvie Ajayi and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The student didn’t know who they were and was impressed by their successes. It was important for me to stop being the stuffy principal and share something about myself. I also offered to be available to discuss writing.

I’m working closely with a group of students who are disengaged and disconnected from school. Their attendance is poor. They are not in good standing but they all want to work part-time. I know that the rules about good standing. I’m a rule follower and a rule enforcer. I’m a principal. Rules are important. A few of my staff members are much more black and white about this issue;a few have even voiced criticism of my willingness to be flexible.  But I want to get these kids back in school. Internal motivation is the ideal. I will promote extrinsic rewards if it’s going to motivate kids to come back to school. I cannot withhold encouragement and hope. I could have easily said,“ you guys cut too much school“ and sent them away. My non-negotiables are fighting, defiance, and drug abuse. If a student promises to return to school if I help him or her find a job, how can I say no? What kind of teacher and leader shuts the door on students?  

Part of what I do is give hope. That is at the core of the work that I do. I give these young people opportunities following the example of my own stellar teachers and administrators. I wasn’t born a principal or a teacher.  Shoot I wasn’t even born an English speaker. It’s my turn now to be not only an adult or authority figure but a human being who wants young people to be successful . In the words of the inspiring Harvey Milk, “you have to give them hope.”  

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Blue Monday

bluemondayThose who came before me lived through their vocations

From the past until completion, they’ll turn away no more

And still I find it so hard to say what I need to say

But I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me just how I should feel today, “Blue Monday,” New Order

I had a rough day at work earlier this week.  It was overwhelming. It wasn’t so much the written work that I was having to do because I finished a huge project on Friday. It wasn’t decision-making because yesterday’s events didn’t require anything too difficult. I was short-staffed, down three key employees. It was the  level of need that I sensed or that was needed by parents and students. Credential programs never teach you about self-care, how to strike a healthy work-life balance, and how to handle the emotions that arise when families are sharing their needs and problems with you. Those lessons you learn from experiences or if you’re lucky, good mentors.

I have made a career out of being patient and professional no matter what challenges I’m facing. This has been especially true as an administrator. As a teacher, I often wore my heart on my sleeve.I can’t justify everything I did because it was often dependent on my mood; there were times I was self-involved and less focused on best serving my students and their families. As an administrator I have learned to be more thoughtful about my decisions and actions. The criticisms I received as a teacher,  specifically about my inability to hide how I really feel, were helpful as I transitioned into greater leadership roles. However, it has been inwardly challenging to be calm in many of the situations that I face. Embodying grace under pressure often means internalized pressure. So I broke down once I got home. Rambo and M comforted me with reassurance of their support and love.

I did make it to the gym that night. I had been tearful. By the time I walked into the gym I had pulled myself together. My coach gave us quite the workout. It was physically grueling. It was exactly what I needed to remind myself what I am capable of doing. When things get rough, I can push through them.  What is important is to keep moving and to breathe. As I do with most of my workouts, I lift all those weights in my life and from work. I crunch, step, swing, and power through each set. Though I am nowhere near my previous levels of strength and fitness, I got through the evening and felt better for it.

I told Rambo I wanted to quit my job. I have to take it one day at a time. I will rely on what won’t fail me. I am blessed to have my health, my commitment to myself, and the love of my family. As my running coach once told me, tough times don’t last but tough people do.

Maker of chains

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In my previous leadership role, I did some writing and reflecting on being an exorcist and having to slay demons. I had to face my fears and insecurities. I relied on my teammate to help me face toxic individuals. I then began to see Game of Thrones as an analogy for my new leadership role.  Over the course of last summer, I had an opportunity to sit on the Iron Throne (an awesome replica, anyway); I found it exciting and empowering.  Since starting my new role, I had another experience to sit in the same throne. It made think about how things have changed now that I’m living my new role, as opposed to pondering my new title.

A new leader can quickly go from being well-loved to being criticized or vilified.  The transition to a new staff has mostly been seamless. Interestingly, the struggle has been with my students. In the past, while there have been challenging clients, I played a different role and felt mostly successful. In my current position, there is no buffer. I’m both good cop and bad cop. Instead of breaker of chains, I have been perceived by some students to be the maker of chains.

As a woman of color, I have not often been the one making decisions. I have been affected by others imposing systems and structures on everyone else. Now I’m the one implementing change and meting out discipline. Young people see me as an authority figure first.  I’m not here to be a good time Carla or anybody’s little friend. I’ve been in the education game since I was the “cool teacher.” I look back on some of my actions back then and realize I showed a lack of maturity. I have grown in experience and judgment. As a leader, I have to be mindful of upholding my values, of ensuring safety and making decisions that will help my students move on in their lives. While they may call me a “prison warden” or “dictator,” (yes those are the terms used) I want to empower these young people. When I first started hearing that I had changed the school and made it feel so strict, I actually took pride in those comments.  Though it is sometimes painful, I am clear in who I am.  It is my students who can learn from my example.  So many of them don’t feel powerful. I want them to be proactive about their future plans and to not merely passively accept their life experiences.  It’s a challenge to reconnect with those who feel disenfranchised, disillusioned, demoralized, and disconnected. One of the ways I feel I can do that is to be firm and consistent. It involves being tough on the use of drugs and defiance against staff.  My students, many of whom are dealing with personal and family issues, are also recovering from the loss of my predecessor. They have to now work with someone who they feel is very different, someone they perceive as oppressive. That is bothersome.

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Being is a leader isn’t all glory and power. Even as I experience resistance to my vision, I try to leave work behind at the end of the day.  During my commute, I listen to audiobooks. Then I’m home focused on family and fitness. I’m reading fiction and nonfiction. On weekends, I’m enjoying cultural events and dancing (even some paid gigs now). I’m doing what I need to feed my soul and heart. I need a strong foundation for my leadership. In the long run, my students will see that I’m coming from a good place of deep concern and love.  Hopefully, they will someday see that I came to empower.

Year of change

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Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change, into something rich and strange…Shakespeare, The Tempest

Two weeks ago, one of my dance sisters asked us on Facebook to share highlights from the past year. I shared that I celebrated 10 years with my boyfriend and that I walked away from toxic personal and professional situations.  In a year of change, I struggled with the latter the most.  It’s never easy to walk away from people or relationships, even those that hurt us. We hang onto to what’s familiar. Pero es necesario para seguir adelante.

Quien soy yo para decir que algo es dañino?  Welp, that’s it. I decide what or who is toxic to me. If I can no longer grow within a relationship, whatever kind it may be, it’s harmful. This is not to say a toxic situation cannot have positive aspects. I loved my last job; there were only a few toxic individuals that I could no longer tolerate. It is my right to say enough already. More importantly, it was time to test my confidence and leadership. Best decision of 2017! In my personal life, I made the decision to distance myself from a group with which I had worked for many years. I created beautiful memories and felt great joy during most of my time with them. But the cons greatly outweighed the pros this past year. So I made the decision to walk away.

The second half of last year was tough due to adjusting to all the changes. I experienced grief over the loss of familiar faces and experiences. Yo tuve que hacerlo por mi. I have to live with myself. I have to get up every morning and feel good about who I am. I choose to do the things that are going to help me grow and make me feel good about myself.

Though I took a break from writing, I have been doing what feeds my soul. I have continued to dance. My samba teacher is nurturing and loving. She was exactly who I needed at this time. It is so important to be seen, heard, and encouraged.  I needed that one-on-one support, not only in dance technique and style, but as a woman.

I have exercised every day during the winter break. I admit I can be an emotional eater and also that I can lose motivation when anxious or sad; this time of transition tested me and won.  Pero se acabo.  I will get back on track with my physical fitness; I will do the work. But I don’t want it to happen because #carnavalsooncome. I want to stay fit because it will be best for my overall health.

I ended the year with the friends who have been in my life for decades who know, love, accept and embrace me. Al fin y al cabo, I alone choose who and what will help me grow. Sea changes help me see changes.

Greener grass

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I started my new job approximately a month ago. I am energized, excited, happy, and hopeful. These are positive feelings which bode well for my new start.   This is my 22nd year in secondary education.   It is my first year as principal.    During the summer, my friend, fitness and leadership guru @dymeetworld (find her on Instagram!) posted that “the grass is greener under me.” I really liked that post and idea. So often, when we change jobs, end relationships or move locations, we do so out of the feeling that the grass will be greener in a different situation. The grass can be green, yellow, or non-existent, no matter where you go.

My mindset is what I bring to every experience I have. I go into a new situation with an open mind and hopeful heart. To be happy is an action, not a feeling. It’s not about feeling bitterness and resentment about the past; it’s about challenging me to take new opportunities. I consistently aim to be my best self.  The grass is always going to be greener because I’m always looking for the best in even the darkest situation. I feel lighter. I feel free. I feel younger.  My last experience prepared me well for the job I now hold. No hay mal que por bien no venga. All experiences are for my growth and progress. Change moves me forward.  The grass is green underneath me.

*Thanks, dear friend, for sharing your positivity and wisdom with us. You will continue to inspire me in this new phase of my career.

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Killing the Girl

Game of Thrones is now informing my take on leadership. In the past, The Exorcist was a touchstone to which I always returned.  Game of Thrones provides food for thought in every episode. All kinds of leaders are in action, some evil, some righteous. Different decisions are made and some thoughtful, some poor, some made with the help of advisors while others are made by the leader on her or his own.  While it is a fictional fantasy and therefore full of extreme examples, the show does provide lessons to be learned.

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In Season 5, Episode 5, “Kill the Boy,” bae Jon Snow has become the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Jon consults the Maester because Jon trusts him as one of the few people of integrity to whom he can turn. The Maester is over 100 years old, blind, and frail. He is not vying for power and has been loyal to Jon.  Jon appreciates his wisdom. The Maester knows a lot about the world. He’s an actual Targaryen but he renounced being part of the noble family to join the Night’s Watch.  So Jon seeks his counsel on a decision he has to make. As a new leader, Jon has already been questioned about his strength in leadership. Even when he was still a steward, Jon was mistreated for several reasons. As a bastard, he is on the lower end of the social ladder. However, because he grew up in a noble family, he is perceived as a spoiled rich kid. Though the Maester points out that Jon did not need to consult him, he offers this observation, “You will find little joy in your command, but with luck, you’ll find the strength to do what needs to be done. Kill the boy…and let the man be born.”  I liked these words so much I scribbled them on a notepad and I now carry with me to work.

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Another part of the conversation between Jon and the Maester involves the response to a decision. Jon feels half the men will disagree.  The Maester reminds him that half the men already do. In leadership and in life, there are always people who are difficult or divisive, those who breed drama or foster negativity. People will doubt me or want to get in the way of change; they woke up that way (and not looking like Beyoncé either!) I will have to deal with those situations in a way that will sit right with my values and with who I am.

Recently, I was reflecting with a friend who is new to educational leadership. I had previously shared with him my ideal of leadership with integrity. I know the reality is going to be difficult. I know I will struggle to be assertive and confrontational. I want to strive for my ideal. I want to lead in a way that when I get home to my family, I will feel good about a decision I made. Feeling good doesn’t mean jumping for joy. It doesn’t mean I won’t hurt feelings or compromise my “popularity.” I’m not leading to be liked. I’m not leading because it’s easy. I’m leading for a greater purpose and that is to serve young people.  Whatever decision I make has to be one my students deserve.

Like Jon Snow, I’m entering a new phase in my life. I’m excited about being the Lord Commander and feel ready to kill the girl.

Goal met

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Over the years, I have been successful in attaining my professional goals.  I have been thoughtful about finding opportunities that match my skill set, my vision, and my goals. Then I pursue those opportunities. I have continued to succeed.

I began this piece nearly a month ago when I received a phone call following a series of job interviews. During my reflection, I spoke to the power of believing in myself. I used to doubt everything I did, said, and thought. I felt like a victim. Then I had enough.  I made sure my life would be different. It took many tears, moments of anger,  lots of soul-searching but I made it happen and will continue to do so.  I am committed to becoming the best version of myself each and every day. I owe that to my God, my family, and myself. I won’t ever go back to the way things were.

I know I will struggle. I will continue to experience doubt, anxiety, and fear. I’m not weak and I will not lose any fight. I will succeed.  So I am proud to say I got the job.  Now I can truly say I’m a leader.