When I was an undergrad, I had to write my philosophy of education. I don’t remember every word of that paper, but the foundation was that everyone can learn, has the right to learn, and should be taught in the manner in which they learn best. Those beliefs remain the cornerstone of my philosophy of education today.
As an educational leader, that’s also the basis of my leadership philosophy. When I was completing my school administrator licensure, we studied many different leadership styles. My program was all centered around the servant leadership style, but that is my philosophy of leadership, as well. As a servant leader, I believe that trust is at the center of any successful organization. Trust can’t be built until relationships are formed. I truly do the work I do to help teachers, administrators, and indirectly, the students. Most likely my career won’t make me rich and famous. Of course, I didn’t go into teaching with those goals in mind, but with the intent to serve others. In the beginning, I served the elementary students in my classroom. Those kids knew they were wanted and welcomed in our classroom every day. They knew that I cared about them, and that I would push them to do their best every day. Yes, I knew their reading skills and math abilities. But I also knew how they worked in groups, whether they were more introverted or extroverted, what genres they preferred to read, and how organized they were. I knew who they usually played with at recess, and who their siblings were. I talked with their parents, and learned about their home lives. I did all of that through building authentic, trusting relationships with each child.
I no longer teach elementary students, but building relationships remains a top priority to me so that I can be the most effective educational consultant and coach as possible.
Sometimes I work with a group of teachers and administrators for only one day. Sometimes I get to return to their districts many times throughout a school year. Regardless of how much time I spend with each group, I need to quickly decipher their needs, fears, and strengths. I do that through talking with them, and more importantly, by listening. Servant leaders don’t “take over” a room. They empower those around them to find their strengths and share them with the group.
I don’t believe that servant leaders are only leaders when they are doing “official” work. Here’s a personal example: I was waiting in the Indianapolis airport for my flight and noticed the older gentleman beside me grading papers. So, of course, I asked him if he was a teacher (dumb question, I know, but it was a conversation starter so give me a little break). He (obviously) said yes. As we talked more about what I had taught, and what I do now, he shared that he had a third-grade grandson who was recently adopted from Kenya. He shared that the young boy can read wonderfully, having been taught in British English in Kenya, but was having trouble with comprehension. Since I taught second grade for many years, he asked for my advice. We had a wonderful conversation as I shared ways to help improve his grandson’s reading comprehension. He was so kind and complimentary to me, and I was a bit embarrassed by the praise. I was just sharing from my experience and knowledge, plus I was energized from the conversation because I was discussing something dear to my heart.
This is what servant leaders do! It’s not a job. It’s not a position. And it’s more than a philosophy or style of leadership. It’s part of who we are.
What is your leadership philosophy?