Be a Lead Learner, Not a Manager

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be a lead learner, not a manager

We’ve all had those days where we start out so well. We have a to do list, we know what needs to be accomplished. We’re ready and full of energy We think to ourselves, ” It’s going to be the MOST PRODUCTIVE DAY ever!”

That thought generally cues a couple of fights, a teacher breakdown, a classroom without a sub, a late bus, and ten parent phone calls.

Time demands faced by school leaders makes their work increasingly difficult. You’re the instructional leader, you’re the decision maker, you’re the problem solver. You literally could be everything to everyone on your campus. And I think some days, we could play a part in every facet of  what goes on throughout the day. We jump in as janitors. As mediators. As counselors. We know these things are going to happen. Someone is always watching…we have to set the tone!

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go into leadership to become a manager. I wanted to inspire, to empower…to make a campus the very best that it can be for the students it serves. Every action (or reaction!) I exhibit whole at school, I am very cognizant of the notion that someone is always watching. With that being said,I don’t want to be seen as a manager. I want to emulate being a lead learner.  I want my teachers to see me as having a growth mindset. Someone who is always growing, always willing to try and experience new things. A lead learner is ok when things get complicated, when there is failure. They know that mistakes are a part of learning.

How can you foster this mentality? Start by watching this TED talk, talking about what and how perseverance is so important for success. Leaders must walk the walk! They have to be able to illustrate by their example that when things get down, they get going. There is no staying down when you fall, you always have to get back up.

Recognizing what role you play within your administrative team is important as well. No one person can be everything…work with your strengths and surround yourself with people who are good at things you aren’t. The Gallup Strengths Finder has a great breakdown of strengths and how they fit in with others styles.

Remember, a leader does not do everything himself, rather they control their environment to help make success happen. Focus on what you can do to build your team, show that grit, and watch as all the other pieces fall into place!

Leadership in Schools:

At the beginning of the year, I go back over a hashtag I used on my blog my first year as the principal. I review all the things that went well, and the things that I know could have gone better. The summary of the leader I want to remember to be is powerful as it literally WHO I want to be.

Be the leader who listens.

Talk less, listen more. You don’t have to have all the answers, in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. Through conversation and seeking to understand, you can develop an answer or solution together. Let them feel listened to, because their concerns/problems should be as important to you as they are to them. Coming back with your perspective or your solution can be seen as defensive. Process…slow down and have the grace to say, “thank you, let me think on that, and get back to you.”

Be the leader who shares…but share just enough.

I may write a book called “The Fallacy of Transparent Leadership”. Todd Whitaker and I have discussed this at length…you want your leader to be transparent, but you don’t want to hear it ALL, nor is there even that need. Be selective in what you share…make sure that they are getting the taste of what you’re sharing, but not sick to their stomach because it was just. too. much. Communicate your urgency in the form of professionalism, not panic.

Be the leader who has it together or is visibly attempting to!

Hey, guess what? You’re the boss. YOU ARE THE BOSS. You are the one everyone else is looking to set the tone, have the plan, and guide the conversations. While you don’t have to KNOW the answers, you should be the one asking the questions. You’re the one who knows the destination you want your team to get too. It’s up to you to STEER the boat to get here. Often principals assume that until they have a certain level of expertise they can’t be effective leading in certain areas, but it actually is the reverse. Immersing yourself in “all the things”, builds knowledge and expertise. Strive to be better. We expect our students to grow daily. We want our teachers to embrace a growth mindset. Leadership should also be a calling, one that requires you to also be moving forward.

Be the leader who admits when they are wrong.

It is ok to say that you don’t know, or that you made a mistake, or that you could have handled something better. #thefirstyear was full of learning opportunities. I am blessed with a staff that let me say that I was sorry and understood that I was still learning. I can’t even begin to tell you how humbling it is to have to admit daily that you could do it better. If you’ve established a culture where mistakes are embraced, dissected, and moved past, then you as the leader have to embrace YOUR mistakes as well. Show grace when your team does the same.

Be the leader who sets the thermostat.  

A thermometer takes the temperature of the room. A thermostat sets the temperature.  You are the person. THE PERSON. Encouragement means more when it comes from you. Advice means more when it comes from you. Evaluative comments? Mean more coming from you. Use that power for good. From the office staff to the janitor…you are the one who sets the temperature. While you 100% can have a bad day, you don’t have the luxury of showing your stress, your anger, your own drama, when you are trying to lead. If you panic, they will panic. If you are stressed, they will be stressed.

Be the leader who recognizes that your position precedes your person.

It takes time…a LOT OF TIME…for people to get to know you. More than even an entire school year. Value that. Everyone KNOWS you’re the principal. Staff, parents, students…they all know. There’s never a reason to say that you are, trust me. No one is going to forget that the principal/leader said something out loud, or an opinion you shared.  They notice when you  walk into the room. In fact, constantly reminding people that you’re the boss, ACTUALLY diminishes your effectiveness. When you ask for an opinion or their thoughts…know that they are measuring their answer because you’re the principal. This was a very powerful realization for me…one that I do not take lightly now with each and every conversation I have with my people. (all my people!)

Take some time, here at the beginning, to remind yourself of what kind of leaders you want to be at the end. It’s the little steps that we’ll take in between there that will make it happen.


Amber Teamann is the proud principal of Whitt Elementary in Wylie ISD in Wylie, Texas. During her educational career, Amber’s comprehensive understanding of student learning has resulted in a successful blend of technology and teaching. From a 4th grade teacher at a public school technology center, to her role as a Title I Technology Facilitator responsible for 17 campuses, Amber has helped students and staff navigate their digital abilities and responsibilities. She transformed the way information is shared in one of the largest school districts in Texas by piloting a communication initiative that launched Twitter, and led to 100-percent campus participation. Through her campus level leadership, she has helped initiate classroom change district wide, empowering teachers at all levels.

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