Your Leadership Identity Matters


On my fifth day on the job as an urban middle school principal in New Jersey, I received a letter from the state’s Department of Education. The letter informed me that my school was now on the “persistently dangerous” list as a result of student discipline reports from the past three years. Although I did not agree that the school was dangerous, this designation became my new reality. Under No Child Left Behind, my students’ parents had the option to transfer their children to a “safer” school. Soon after, I invited parents and students to meet with me. I convinced all but one family that my school was “the place to be.” The parents believed in me, and we got the school year off to a running start together.

As a core strategy to lead the transformation of the school’s climate and culture (and get us removed from the dreaded list), I had all students and staff members report to the auditorium every Monday morning upon arrival. I spent about half an hour firing up those kids about learning and their potential, while simultaneously convincing them that there was nothing dangerous about them or their school. On the remaining days of the week, I did the same thing over the school’s PA system.

In large part, this became my leadership identity. When students saw me, I wanted them to see a motivator. At the end of that same school year, I received a follow-up letter from the state, this time congratulating us for being removed from the “persistently dangerous” list. My leadership identity mattered!

In my article titled “Is Your School Better Because You Lead It?” in the May 2017 issue of Educational Leadership, I discuss leadership identity in more detail, as well as the importance of identifying your mission, purpose, and vision as a leader. Tell me–what is your leadership identity? Who are you when you lead your school? Never underestimate the power in your identity as the leader of your school. 

Baruti K. Kafele (; is an award-winning former urban principal in New Jersey and a current education consultant. He is also the author of several books, including The Teacher 50: Critical Questions for Inspiring Classroom Excellence (ASCD, 2016) and The Principal 50: Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence (ASCD, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PrincipalKafele.