Lead with a torch. Not a clipboard. ~ LoriAnne Mullins
Lead with a Torch
In recent days, I had the honor of sitting on an interview committee tasked with scoring a candidate for a new position of leadership at one of our schools. It was a last minute task, but a much needed addition to the committee from the standpoint of representation from someone with an in-the-trenches perspective.
My day job is unique in that I work very closely with a few students and am part teacher, part tutor, part nurturer. I work not only with struggling readers but also with students who come with outside-the-box needs. There are days when I hear stories and personal details that some teachers are not privy to. There’s a delicate balance in my job where life experience and wisdom has taught me where my job ends and another begins. This past year during the lockdown, I renamed my official title as I sought to find one that was less formal sounding. My title signature at the end of all my emails used to read “Paraprofessional”. Now, it reads “Paraprofessional/Learning Coach”.
Even though this title impacts me and how I approach my job, the students don’t care what I call myself or how I brand myself. They do care, however, how “alongside” them I am and how I show up. Now more than ever our students need the “alongside-ness” of educators and coaches so when I was scoring candidates for the new position, I asked myself if the next leader would lead in the way a coach leads. Why a coach? Because the word coach implies leading from the heart as a mentor. I imagined a leader who would carry a torch rather than a clipboard, light the way rather than keep score and engage with a bold presence rather than sit on the bench.
One interviewee stood out to me and to all the other interviewers. This leader was not only a previous coach but one that was committed to putting students first. This is not an easy focus but it’s the right one. The challenge of making students a focus shows up everyday as we sift through trendy curriculum, standardized testing and doing what’s best for the classroom. How do we guard the hearts and minds of these precious ones while working within the confines of what the collective may be doing? These are questions that good leaders ask. The sense I got from the preferred candidate was that he really cared about this answer. I care too because the collective is not my classroom. Student focus is a principle I choose to live by and it works.
This past year I very much had a different experience as I taught a social emotional class to a group of 6th graders. Even though I believe in the freedoms of expression given to all of us, I also had to constantly remind my students that even though someone may not express the same things as they do, we all get to like what we like. Oftentimes this approach went far in creating the kind of classroom culture that feels like all of us are created equal. It echoes what each student inherently has as a citizen of the United States. It created a sense of belonging too as we strove to make allowances for each other while still standing in solidarity in our love for freedom and individuality.
This past year I’ve been challenged to cancel “cancel culture”, committing to allow differences without insults and creating a place where one student at the end of the year offered her thanks when she said,
“Miss LoriAnne, thank you for making this classroom a place where everyone is accepted and can feel safe.”
I’ve lived long enough and travelled far away enough to know that feeling accepted and safe is not something to take for granted. While I received a huge compliment from this student, I believe it is our students who will be the ones that lead us with the best ideas. I look forward to September, when new leadership takes their place as the leader I’ve imagined for our youth.
Points to ponder: Great leaders lead with a torch; not a clipboard.
How will you lead?