As teachers, we often don’t see ourselves as leaders outside the realm of our classroom. We are in charge of our students and our classrooms. And we think that is it. Generally, that is the way we like it. It allows us to go into our domain, close the door and do our thing. Unbothered, uninterested and unchallenged. However, what if I told you that you are a leader and that you possess incredible attributes for being a great leader? Like it or not, you have leadership skills, albeit laden leadership skills, but you possess great potential to influence those around you. Not just your students. Not just your colleagues, but your administration, your district, your state and perhaps at the national level. However, you have not realized that potential because like I was, you are considered a reluctant leader. Someone who often was voluntold to do something and you just haven’t figured out how to say the word “no.” So you reluctantly go about the task at hand and because you are a teacher (as we all know, they are die hard perfectionist – even if you don’t want to admit it) you want to do your very best job. You know, the kind that reluctantly leads professional development for your colleagues or the kind that discovered some cool new technology feature and now you get to teach it to your entire staff because an administrator observed you using it in the classroom with your students. If you’re a reluctant leader and you have some wonderful admin on your side, they see in you what you don’t quite see yourself…yet. I was in this place when I was asked to attend LILL (The Leadership Initiative for Language Learning) not knowing fully what it was about or what I would do there. They asked me in December and I thought “June is months away, ‘Future Jaime’ will figure it out. Pretty soon June was upon me and I was reading books about leadership and wondering, “What am I doing!?” While in Chicago, I realized that I needed to stop being so modest and humble (within reason, of course). I realized that this like-minded group of people were all amazing leaders and I had this potential too. I just had to take the time to think introspectively to unlock it. Ryan Smith, a Spanish teacher from Nevada said, “We’re not allowed to say we’re ‘just classroom teachers’” and at this moment I had an epiphany and I realized why I was at LILL. We are so much more than that. It is time to stop being coy and to recognize your superpower and sphere of influence. It is time to stop being a reluctant leader and really think introspectively how you can encourage and foster leadership in your new school year. It is time to focus on how you can continue to grow yourself to be the best version that you have to offer because ultimately your students and colleagues deserve it. You are an advocate and leader for language learning for your classroom, school, district, and perhaps even your state. Your sphere of influence far exceeds what you give yourself credit for and it is time to be more methodical about how you use your leadership. So, what have I done since returning from LILL and how have I used my sphere of influence to advocate for world language programs? I searched high and low (with the help of many colleagues across the state) to find every secondary administrators’ email that has a world language program and I have composed an email to them highlighting the importance of encouraging their teachers to participate in our Wyoming Foreign Language Teachers’ Association. I sought out all the emails of every world language educator in the state of Wyoming and have sent out an email that highlights why they would want to be part of our state organization and attend our annual conference. And lastly, I am working on setting up meetings with all the stakeholders (along with the help of many colleagues) to get the Seal of Biliteracy up and running in our district and hopefully, statewide. Being a leader means creating an action plan and identifying those around you that can help you get it done, basically you’re creating your own league of super heroes.
So how can you move on the leadership spectrum from reluctant leader to becoming a more self-actualized leader? Identify in yourself your strengths and weaknesses (we did this by reading and taking the quiz provided from Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath). We also read Great Leaders Grow by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller (2012) and on my own, I have read Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek (my building instructional facilitator encouraged me to read that one). It isn’t going to happen overnight because Rome wasn’t built in a day. However, as long as you continue to established attainable SMART goals and keep working at it, you will see the fruits of your labor. I think it is also important to realize that everybody’s fruit will be different, it is about the journey.
So, what are you going to do this school year to hone your leadership skills?