Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Are You a Young Educator With Leadership Aspirations? 4 Tips You Need to Know

Education is constantly evolving, and intelligent innovative educators are ready to evolve with it. Sometimes the professionals who are ready to step into leadership positions are on the younger side. Pulling together the right support system and mindset is essential to the success of educators with these aspirations.

I had the opportunity to learn and present with some of the top young education leaders this weekend at ASCD's Empower conference in Anaheim, California. In a carousel-style workshop, we shared with (and learned from) fellow leaders to develop our skills and bring a refreshed mindset back to our schools and districts.

Here are our top 4 takeaways:

Saying "Yes" and Taking Chances

Amy MacCrindle, Director of Literacy from Illinois, reminds young leaders that sometimes all it takes is 3 little letters to take the leap into leadership. Her experiences can be narrowed to 3 pieces of advice:

  • Amy says, "opportunities that fall outside your comfort zone end up being the ones that stretch you and become defining moments." 
  • But be sure to only say yes when your heart is in it. If an opportunity does not align with your vision and goals, it could end up being a tough experience. 
  • Saying no usually means that same opportunity will never come along again, so always consider saying yes. But if you end up saying no, a new similar/better opportunity will likely come along soon! Sometimes it is OK to say no because you know you will be ready to say yes later.


Leveraging Networks

Natalie Franzi, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Projects in New Jersey, highlighted the importance of finding organizations that can help support leadership goals and encourage growth. Her tips for finding your tribe are:

  • Find the people who will lift you up. Leaders need to find sources of learning and encouragement to stay fueled during the day-in and day-out of their duties.
  • Make the time. Natalie says, "While many of us already feel overwhelmed and wonder where we are going to get the time to add one more thing, investing in a network will save time in the long run." She suggests that networks provide access to resources and opportunities to present, blog, and collaborate.
  • Explore the options. She put together this hyperdoc with information about her favorite professional educator organizations and links to their websites. Explore it to find the networks that best fit your leadership aspirations.


Becoming a Reflective Leader

Adam Brown, Principal from Virginia, encouraged participants to build reflection into daily practice. Gaining a leadership title is a chance to grow and learn in new ways, not a signal to stop growing and learning. His suggestions included:

  • Lead with humility. Adam says, "Be OK with not knowing everything. Find a mentor who is going to be honest with you and won't be afraid to tell it like it is." Insecure leaders are afraid to admit their faults, but people have greater respect for leaders who are willing to say they do not know everything.
  • Read and challenge yourself to improve your leadership style. Adams top reads include Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Leadership and the New Science, In Search of Excellence, Shifting the Monkey, and Good to Great. While balancing work and family, Adam uses his commuting time to listen to audio books.
  • Balance active listening, effective communication, and transparency. Adam cites the Adaptive Schools program as his biggest influence in this area.


Strategies and Tools for Personalized Professional Learning

My contribution included sharing the tactics and technology that have allowed me to grow as a connected educator when I needed the growth. While many schools and districts offer impressive PD opportunities, personalized on-demand feedback is especially powerful because you are able to get it when you need it. I recommended:

  • Write about your experiences and then share them on a blog. The feedback you'll get will be just as valuable as the act of writing in the first place.
  • Use tools like Facebook Groups, Voxer Chats, and Google Hangouts to connect with other leaders from throughout the country. Often conversations start on Twitter, but another platform is needed to delve more deeply into the topic.
  • Make connections in person at conferences. Then trade usernames/handles to help build those connections into a Personal Learning Network (PLN) using social media and communication tools.


With the right mindset, support network, reflective practices, and combination of strategic tools, young ambitious educators can be well-prepared for the challenges that will face them. While leadership is filled with challenges, it is also filled with opportunities for creating real change that can benefit students and teachers.