Several years ago when I first started listening to education podcasts, I remember George Couros sharing the importance of learning from our mistakes. That message resonated with me and drove my thinking to a different level. At that time, I had been a teacher leader and just finished several years as an assistant principal. In fact, I was about to begin as a principal of a building that needed an infusion of culture, a realigned focus on relationships and a deeper meaning of teaching/learning. I used that podcast to help me think of my failures as an educator. First I must share that when I think of the word “failures” I think of experiences that provided an opportunity for growth that at the time was not met with full success but later provided a reflection opportunity. I also decided it wasn’t enough just to reflect upon “failures'” but to also write them down on paper. But why would I record the mistakes or failures? First note that an individual can only recognize one’s actions as mistakes or failures if they are doing deep reflection. As a result, I wanted this reflection to be more impactful so I recorded a learning lesson from each failure so that experience would help refine my leadership skills and journey over time. I came to recognize that my failures “didn’t define me but would refine me.” I hope that over my 14 years now as an administrator that I am a better leader, more well rounded person and operate from a core set of beliefs. In the end, I believe this allows me to better serve the students and staff that I work with.
Below a few examples of “my failures” and the lessons that I learned from those experiences.
- Failure – Early in my administrative career I thought I had to act and behave a certain way as an administrator. At times, I tried to be someone that I was not. As a result, the deep connections and relationships were limited as I was not my true self.
Lesson Learned – Be you and your authentic self and just focus each day on being your best version of yourself. Believe in yourself and the attributes that you have to make a difference.
- Failure – As an administrator in my first job I strived to help the teachers and staff that I served. This included notes of praise, professional development, feedback and overall support. As a result, I thought I would receive similar PD for me as a building administrator. I learned over time that despite the best efforts of others, the quality and quantity of PD, feedback and professional drive that I was seeking was different than I expected.
Lesson Learned – If you want to grow as a leader, don’t wait for others to help you. Your growth is your responsibility. This helped me to form my PLN and eventually led to my SM use and blogging as a way to connect with other educators.
- Failure – I am fortunate that I work in a wonderful district with good people who focus on the right things. There are many talented leaders and educators. There have been times when other administrators or leaders have received recognition and praise for the same work that I have done. I would not be honest if I didn’t share that I felt a sense of disappointment and frustration as I too wanted to be valued for my contributions. I thought I had worked hard too and so I also had hoped for a sense of accomplishment or validation.
Lesson Learned – I recognized that I cannot compare myself to others as I am not aware of all the factors in their journey. I should be happy for them and their accomplishments and at the same time, stay focused on doing the right work and that will lead to the real award – influencing and developing others as leaders. Over time I have learned that the most impactful and level 5 leaders are the quiet ones. They don’t seek applause or recognition as their focus is on helping others to grow and develop as leaders. They focus on their legacy not building their resume.
- Failure – During my years as a teacher leader I was excited about what administrative areas I would have if I had the chance to be an administrator. Early in my administrative journey one of the areas I was in charge of was Maintenance. When I was told Maintenance was one of my key areas, I was disappointed beyond words. Looking back, I missed the mark as every part of the school is important and plays a role upon teaching and learning. I was just never told the “why” it was so important so I did not see the value in it.
Lesson Learned – I recognized there is value in every opportunity for growth and impact. When you work with people, take advantage of each experience to treat them with respect, value their efforts and do the best you can with what you have. Everything plays a role within a school that can lead to an improved culture and the importance is how can you innovate or find ways to make it better.
- Failure – As an administrator I have had multiple opportunities to interact with families and parents regarding their children. Some of these conversations have been tense and tough conversations. At first I tried to find ways to lessen this interaction as I would send an email rather than make a phone call or invite them in for a conversation. While the end result was achieved, I now recognized I missed some chances to make a deeper impact.
Lesson Learned – I now recognize the families and parents/guardians I serve as a leader are a true partner in our school experience. I should try to work with them, not against them, when it comes to tough conversations. It is never easy to tell a parent their child is in trouble or made mistakes. However, when you take the time to share the purpose, listen, validate their feelings and share how I care for their child to develop as a leader with strong character then greater trust can be developed. I now recognize these tough conversations are the relationships that truly make schools great.
The journal of my failures and learned leadership lessons has taught me great lessons on how to be an effective leader. It comes by taking time to reflect and think at deep levels using your core beliefs to help guide your growth. I now recognize these themes from my failures help build success by the following:
- I can be a leader and still ask for help
- I can be confident and still have doubt
- I can expect excellence and still be empathetic
- I can be direct and still be kind
- I can work with urgency and still be patient
- I can be strong and still be vulnerable
- I can lead but let other take the ownership of the work
- I can make a greater impact by working together and going slow instead of working alone and going fase.
This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. However, like any year I will make mistakes. You cannot lead without making mistakes. The importance is not that you make mistakes but what you learn from your mistakes in the form of growth experiences. The journal that I keep on my failures has been pivotal upon my growth as it allows me to sharpen my skills and focus as a leader. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org