Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities
In Your School- Do all stakeholders subscribe to the belief that EVERYONE has something to learn and EVERYONE has something to teach? This blog can help you gain insight on how to facilitate this transformative mindset with your faculty!

Jul 29, 2011

Excerpts from My Leadership Platform

“A man who stands for nothing falls for everything.”-Malcolm X

My journey of discovering “my purpose” in life began at an early age. I recall a significant event that took place when I was around the age of six. I attended an all-white elementary school with the exception of one biracial little girl that I will call Andrea. Andrea was often the target of criticism and bullying, and I inferred that school was not a happy place for her. One sunny afternoon, as I spun on the merry-go-round, I caught a glimpse of Andrea crying alone under a shaded tree on the playground. I went to inquire about what was the matter. She informed me of the racial slurs that the other children had been shouting at her. Infuriated, I marched her right over to the teacher, fully confident that the teacher would correct the situation and justice would be served. What happened next might very well be the origin of my beliefs related to respect, compassion, and tolerance. When I informed the teacher of what had been said to Andrea, she pulled Andrea close to her, rubbed her on the back and said, “It’s alright sweetheart. It is not your fault that your parents committed a sin, and God will not blame you for it.” She then went on to mutter something about being "equally yolked" to the other teachers standing around. This is most likely the reason why I became such a strong proponent for the separation of church and state and why I get so upset when I witness teachers attempting to interpret the Bible- and break the law- while on the job. Misuse of authority has been a reoccurring concern for me that first became important on that day so many years ago. Related issues have revealed themselves repeatedly in both my professional and personal life over the years. I was grown before I came to fully understand the impact that incident would have on me.Upon arriving home from school that day, I immediately explained to my mother what had taken place. Because my mom had a mere ninth grade education and she had me just three days after her fifteenth birthday, people often assumed that she could not possibly possess the skills to teach me very much. My mom’s reaction that day proved just the opposite. As I spoke of what had happened, I noticed that my mom’s expression drastically changed to one that was obviously indicative of tremendous sadness. This frightened me a bit because my mother had always been a portrait of strength. Her parents died seven days apart when I was nine months old, and she was left to single-handedly raise a child and care for her epileptic brother who had Down’s Syndrome. My mom leaned toward me, got very serious, and told me that the way the teacher had treated Andrea was wrong. At the time, it was hard for me to imagine a teacher being wrong. Perhaps this was when I first learned to never assume that an individual is professional, or even ethical, because of his or her title. As a result, titles have never been very important to me throughout my career. My mom went on to fervently insist that good people have a responsibility to always take a stand for what is right. And so my journey began.

“If a man has nothing in his life worth dying for, then he doesn’t have a life worth living.”-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The students in my sixth grade class were eagerly peering out of the window in hopes that the rain would cease. As was customary in these situations, the teacher informed us that we would have to view a filmstrip during our recess time due to the inclement weather. We had been learning about the civil rights movement and the movement’s legendary leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We had learned about the injustices and violence, lynchings, church bombings, and the KKK. I found myself constantly anxious and upset as these facts were introduced to us. The teacher explained that we would be viewing the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. As I watched Dr. King, I was in absolute awe of his courage. Although I did not realize it at the time, I believe that I made a connection to the words my mom had spoken to me several years earlier. I recalled how she had told me to speak out against wrongdoing and take a stand for what is right. Dr. King risked his life to do just that, and he eventually paid the ultimate price for doing so. This was the moment in my life when I began to detect in myself a certain desire to help others by way of social reform. I began to understand that it often takes incredible valor to fight for what is right. I believe I that am a courageous leader, but I do sometimes try to temper my courage so that I will not come across as unapproachable or intimidating.

“What you are shouts so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

My teenage years were all about rebellion. Whether it was organizing a march for women’s rights or starting a petition to boycott a cosmetics company experimenting on animals, I was definitely well on my way to becoming an activist. I was most likely strongly influenced by the fact that my parents were “hippies.” During this time in my life, I had a very strong desire to “stand out” from the crowd. Getting tattoos, body piercing, alternative music, and having a boyfriend that was not “socially acceptable” were all ways in which I tried to say “I am not afraid to question what society says is ‘right’.” Since then, I have become very aware of my charismatic tendencies as they relate to societal authority. I have been, at times, “sharply opposed both to rational, and particularly bureaucratic authority, and to traditional authority” (Cuilla, 2003). I frequently find myself using rational influence to try to convert people to my way of thinking (Pierce and Newstrom, 2006). As an instructional leader, I absolutely refuse to choose bureaucracy over what is right for kids. I am very heavily involved in urban school reform, but I know the most appropriate ways to pursue change. Close friends have often advised me to pursue a career where I can take more of an advocacy role. My response to that advice is always the same. “Is education not the ultimate venue for advocacy?” Looking back though, I do recall that I wanted to be an attorney when I was in high school. I dreamed of being a part of the SPLC or the ACLU and working to support equity issues. I accidentally “fell” into education though, when I took a job as a teacher’s assistant (just to pay the bills). Now, I like to believe that “the universe was conspiring” to put me where I needed to be to fulfill my life’s work (Coelho, 1996).

“Chaos breeds life, where order breeds habit.”-Henry Brooks

It was the spring of 1992, and I was eagerly awaiting the birth of my daughter. I recall how this season in my life encompassed hope and optimism. I was very proud of what I had accomplished in my life. I had overcome some significant adversities in life, including poverty, an abusive stepfather, and four years in foster care. I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college. These early accomplishments served as glimpses of the drive that would guide my actions in the future. I was an instructional assistant in an urban school that served a predominantly African American population, and even as someone new to the field of education I was able to recognize the lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity on the part of many teachers. It was at this time that I experienced a brutal awakening with regard to the prevalence of institutionalized racism in our school systems, but I felt certain that what I was doing was making a difference, which brings me back to that day in 1992. I woke up early that morning and had a moment of devotion. I recall praying for the Lord to help me be a good mother. I wanted my child to grow up in a world that was harmonious and kinder to her than it had been to me. After my devotion, I went to turn on the news. Images of violence, burning buildings, looting, and despair filled the television screen on each of the major networks. It was total chaos. The Los Angeles riots dominated the news programs for the next few weeks, right up until the time my daughter was born. I can remember having a sense of panic and urgency take over my body as I thought about the children and families that I served and even my own unborn child. The cultural issues that had merely been important to me before were now nothing less than emergencies that had to be dealt with aggressively. Everything was more personal now. The hope and optimism that I had experienced before had now become replaced with a sense of exigency and impatience. I believe that this was the first time in my life that I truly came to believe that drastic measures, even if they result in chaos, are sometimes necessary to bring about progress. Yes, the riots were horrible, but I saw the awareness that resulted from the riots as a benefit to society as a whole. As a leader, I am not afraid to take drastic measures into my own hands if the result will be for the greater good of others. My biggest challenge at this point in my life is not assuming that what I think is in the best interest of others is always the right action to be taken. I recognize that it is common for me to use my charisma to persuade others to adopt my urgent stance when it comes to change. I believe that I have the ability to detect the needs, hopes, and values of others, and I find that I very often use that insight to get people to commit to my causes (Cuilla, 2003). I know that I have to be very careful with using my charisma. Sometimes I scare myself when I realize what I can get people to do. I constantly have to remind myself to help people change their levels, not their courses (Northouse, 2004). I follow my inspirations completely, whether they turn out to be good or bad. I view this as a strength that is always dangerously close to becoming a weakness. Because I have courage and very strong convictions, I WILL stand against the crowd if it's what's best for kids. I do, however, recognize that I am often too nonconforming and typically ahead of the crowd.

“If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.”–Isaac Newton

I was excited when I was offered a teaching position before even graduating from college. My newly appointed principal called me at home that summer and asked me to come in for a meeting. I was a bit intimidated and worried, and I wondered what it was that she wanted. I figured she was she going to go over my responsibilities with me. However, this woman, who I will refer to as Donna, was the kind of person who could just set your mind at ease as soon as she looked at you. She taught me an important leadership lesson on that very first day; invest in relationship building. It turns out that she had invited me there so that we could have some private time to just get to know each other. She said that she wanted to know all about me. She asked me to tell her about my passions and what motivated me. She inquired about my expectations and my needs. Because my mother was so young when she had me, and she always had to work two or three jobs as I was growing up, I think that I had always longed for someone just to hear me, be interested, and actually care about what I thought. Donna did all of that. The principal that had originally hired me had a health issue arise and retired unexpectantly that summer. Was the universe conspiring again? (Coelho, 1996). Donna taught me so much about leadership. Donna could get me to do anything in the world, but she never once gave me a directive. Because I knew that she genuinely cared about me, I had a strong desire to please her. I knew that she shared many of my passions related to urban school reform, but she modeled a more productive way to pursue them. Specifically, she taught me how to make things happen by utilizing a political framework for leading others. I am also thankful that I had such a great a mentor to teach me about team building and collaboration. I have often wondered how my career may have been different without her influence. She once told me that she wanted to grow me as a leader because I was an important part of the legacy she was trying to build. Donna taught me that leadership is about producing more leaders, not more followers.