The Untitled Leader
One of my favorite movies of all time is, A Few Good Men, released in 1992, starring Tom Cruise. That court room scene I have watched dozens of times over the years and each time I can’t help but recite the lines by heart as each character begins to speak. But there is one line at the end of the movie after the court room scene that causes me to reflect on our work in schools. These words, spoken by Cruise’s character Lieutenant Kafee, “Harold, you don’t need to wear a patch on your arm to have honor,” have always struck a chord with me. I think it is because of the way I view leadership. Just because you don’t have an official title doesn’t mean one is not a leader. On the contrary, the best people recognize leaders when they meet them. They have a certain disposition about them that others immediately recognize and sometimes want to emulate. They have an aura about them that makes others want to be around them. They have a definitive skill set that people quickly notice and appreciate. And other times, it is what they say or how they behave that inspires us to want to be better. Yet, nowhere are such individuals privileged with a reserved parking space, a nameplate on their desk, or mentioned in the chain of command. Rather, they simply go about their daily work, serving as great ambassadors, unofficial mentors, positive role models or invested colleagues who take great pride in and care deeply about their school community.
They are by all accounts, an untitled leader.
Over the course of the last couple of months I have been reminded again and again how blessed I am to be an educator and to work with such talented and dedicated teachers. I am sure you know exactly what I am referring to because I know all of you have encountered similar experiences. I was recently sitting around an interview table with my instructional coaches and we were discussing what it meant to be a “model” teacher and of course the movie, A Few Good Men, came up. We were all of the same opinion that you didn’t have to have the title to be considered a “model” teacher. I am blessed because I am surrounded by a team of model” teachers who lead by example and model the way on a daily basis and are considered by our staff as genuine leaders.
So, it got me thinking, what makes these teachers “model teachers and model leaders?”
- They recognize they are a work in progress – they don’t consider themselves “experts” and value the importance and need to learn from others.
- They don’t define themselves as “model teachers/leaders” rather they define themselves as model learners.
- They never keep their heads down or “stay in their lane” when it comes to leading. Rather, they choose to push themselves forward in order to disrupt the status quo to bring about positive change for students, their school and their community.
- They visualize the change they want for their schools – they understand how they think and what they believe can actually impact what their students and school can become.
- They don’t shy away from challenges and never take a defeatist attitude. They stay the course, regardless of the arrows that may come their way.
- They don’t expect everything to go as planned. They recognize that working in schools with kids is unpredictable. They see student discipline issues as opportunities to both learn and teach self-discipline so they can develop skills over time to better manage both themselves and their students.
- When faced with adversity they don’t dwell on the negative, instead they approach it as an opportunity to educate others.
- They are mindful that how they model teaching/leading each day is a choice and choose to bring their best today, tomorrow and the next day.
After we were done discussing our candidates that day after our interviews I couldn’t help but feel proud of our team. I recognize that I demand a lot of my support staff, teachers, instructional coaches, and administrative team, and so do they. As leaders, I think we owe it to our staff to invest every fiber of our core belief and energy in them to help develop their confidence and skill set so they can arrive at the conclusion on their own that you don’t have to have a patch, a badge or title, or for that point a nameplate to be considered a model teacher or a leader.
In fact, I hope to instill in them the belief that they are all model teachers and leaders because of the manner in which they conduct themselves each and every day.
“We define ourselves by the best that is in us, not by the worst that has been done to us.” – Edward B. Lewis