Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.
- Harold S. Geneen
The art of communication is the language of leadership.
Teaching debate classes will inevitably lead to discussions of leadership. Communication is how one leads, after all. And debate is really arguing- it is persuasion.
Over the last few years it has become clear to me that our students are keenly aware of what leadership is and is not- but are consistently confused to see those labeled "leaders" amongst their peers, faculty, community, country and world not demonstrating it. They are frustrated, they feel as though a "do as I say, not as I do" mentality is pervasive amongst "leaders."
I share their frustration.
As an educator, I watch the government at the state and national level talk of the importance of education while ignoring the plight of the educator. I have spoken with other educators from around my state who have administrations that want "innovation," but only when it matches their concept of innovation. I see students broken over their peers who are "leaders" yet behave inappropriately and see no consequences.
So, we need to have a talk.
We need to talk about promises...
Just last week, the governor of Texas talked about raising teacher salaries to the six figure mark. Collectively, we Texas teachers rolled our eyes. We know this is not real, and even if it is, there is ABSOLUTELY a catch. See, that promise stands in stark contrast to the ACTIONS of our state government. One that has cut funding so that some school districts essentially get ZERO financial support from the state. My district is one of them. But, hey, it is an election year, so, this is to be expected.
Where are the politicians that will actually support, defend, and FIGHT FOR public education? Without the catch?
But politicians are easy targets. Educators make hollow promises as well. Have we not had administrators that promise support, but get busy? Who offer opportunities for growth because we want to grow professionally, but do not follow through? Have we not BEEN the educator who promises our students to be on top of lessons and grading and communication- but then we weren't? Who promise equity- true equity, not the buzzword version going around- but fall back into giving disproportionately to the same students?
Our students have learned that when their peers promise an end to homework to get elected class president that it is false and hollow. They see us doing the same thing. They are savvy. They are wise beyond their years. So we need to FOLLOW THROUGH on our promises as adults. And when we inevitably fail to do so (we all do)- we need to OWN IT. We need to apologize and seek to restore that trust, not brush it under the rug of the past.
We need to talk about the WHY...
TEKS. STAAR. T-TESS.
Expectations. Rules. Standards.
Homework. Goals. Seating.
Why do we do these things?
Our campus has embraced the need to explain the WHY to our students when it comes to expectations and rules. But I think it is time to take a deeper dive into the WHY of state standards, of why we sometimes practice equity poorly, of why sometimes it looks like we have and practice double standards. Because again, our students see it.
Our politicians need to explain why they do what they do- regarding standards and school funding. Our administrators should explain why they make the tough decisions. It is incumbent on teachers to explain the WHY to their students- call it relevance if you like. I just think it is demonstrating respect to students as human beings to explain the purpose of assignments and expectations.
We need to talk about Integrity...
I mentioned earlier that we know our politicians are lying when they make promises. That right there is why we struggle to find integrity in all levels of leadership. It seems that we EXPECT dishonesty, selfish ambition, and cutting corners. Integrity is about holding ourselves to a higher standard.
Making a mistake means owning it- not hiding it.
Breaking a rule means facing a consequence- not hiding it.
Getting caught in a lie means admitting it and seeking to correct it- not hiding it.
When students see their peers who are leaders get treated differently- getting softer, lesser or no consequences- it conveys to them that with great power comes no responsibility. They lose trust in their student leaders, and by extension their adult leaders. It creates an avalanche of cynicism into their adulthood that leads to believe as we do- leaders cannot be trusted.
We CANNOT let this generation drink that poison.
We need to hold ourselves to better standards. We need to face the consequences when we fail. We need to model integrity- doing the right thing even when it is not easy or popular. We need to hold our student leaders to higher standards and not dismiss moral failures because "they are usually pretty good kids."
We need to take Actions...
Talk is cheap.
And when we just talk, and never act, our students see our hypocrisy.
So, today, when you read this, do something. Follow through on a promise. Explain and MODEL a why. Show integrity- and celebrate it when you see it in others.
Really, we do not need to talk about leadership- we need to start DOING it.
That is what was spent on my two kids' school supplies this year. Throw in their backpacks, and it is closer to $250. We have not yet bought school clothes, and having just had a decently costly knee surgery, bought a house and had a car brake light (the one that you have to get a part from the dealer and not Auto Zone) go out as I was getting the car inspected- it may be a bit.
All this was in my head as I checked out at Target, the first of two baskets we had of paper and pens and stuff. But there was something else.
I am thankful.
Thankful that I can buy my kids supplies- even with the other stuff. Sure, it stretches our two teacher household paycheck more than I like or am comfortable with. But I can do it.
In a couple weeks, I will have students who cannot. I will have students who also cannot afford decent meals. I will have students who will not have parents willing or able to help them when they struggle on home work. I will have students who are sick, or have been abused, or been bullied, or have made mistakes that are coming back to haunt them. I will have students that are being abused by they peers- or used by them. I will have students that fear going home- or have none to go to.
There is a growing buzzword in education called "equity." Used correctly, it is an effort to address the issues in the paragraph above. Unfortunately, it is being used to tell teachers to "follow the plan" so one class does not feel they get a cool assignment while the others do not.
But I want to talk about the real equity. The one that matters.
How do we create equity when the field is so uneven? When abuse meets poverty meets stability meets illness meets guilt meets successful meets popular meets depressed?
I just returned from the grocery store where I bought the last vanilla ice cream so my kids could have root beer floats. The package was damaged, so the cashier asked if I wanted a different one. I explained it was the last one, he bagged it, and I went home. That mentality is necessary for retail- get rid of the damaged product. It's the mentality in almost everything in the world except good families and education.
To me, the ice cream carton was damaged, not the contents. If I was looking at the cartons and there had been more than one, I would have ignored the damaged one and taken another.
As educators, we cannot ignore the damaged carton because it is lesser.
And we cannot neglect the pristine carton either to devote all our time to the damaged.
If we want to create equity in the classroom, there is only one way.
Student voice that leads to empowerment.
We cannot create this as educators, we can merely encourage and equip it.
The depressed student has a voice.
The abused student has a voice.
The successful student has a voice.
The homeless kid has a voice.
The rich kid has a voice.
They need to be ALLOWED to use it. They need to be EQUIPPED on how. And they need to be EMPOWERED to enact it.
For the last year, I have lead an initiative in my district. I have recruited a team of educators and together we have developed a program called LEADS that will launch this year. It is a tool- we hope- that will help create equity. We will be leading a session at College Station ISD's You Matter this Friday, but in the meantime, here is our promo video:
As I checked out with my kids' school supplies and thought of all the kids that will struggle to pay for theirs, I hoped not that I could create equity for those students, but that I could help equip my students to fight for true equity- that through LEADS, or-better yet- through their own initiative they will serve those around them that have a need.
That they would consider others as greater than themselves.
Then I remembered that for them to learn that lesson- I need to first model it by serving others.