August 8, 2015

5 Leadership Lessons for Teachers

To hear me talk about this post on YouTube click here.

I had the honor the past two days of attending the Global Leadership Summit 2015 via live stream at my local church.  Most of the professional development I have done up to this point in my life has been geared toward teaching: curriculum, teaching strategies, classroom management, etc.  It was refreshing to attend professional development from the perspective of a person, a leader in multiple aspects of my life.

Yesterday, while taking in the messages from some of the most influential leaders around the world, the thought came to my mind: What would I say if someone walked up to me with a microphone right now and asked, "Who are you?"  In that moment, I was sure my answer would have been: I am many things.  I am a child of God, a wife, an animal mom, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a literacy coach, a blogger, a creator of educational resources, and a person with a vision for empowering middle school literacy teachers.  I was amazed at the shift my mind made because I'm quite sure if I was sitting in educational professional development and someone asked me the same question, I would simply reply, "I'm a teacher and a literacy coach."  I realized I am not defined by my profession.  I am in charge of being a leader in every role that I play and hat that I wear in my life.

As I soaked up every word of the summit, I asked myself how I could relate the messages I heard in a blog post to the teachers who read my blog.  Below are the top five lessons I learned about leadership that I will apply back to teaching.

1.  Don't Fear Discomfort

Bill Hybels, the founder and lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church described one of the traits of a powerful leader as being resourceful.  He stated that being being resourceful means to be near addicted  to learning, to put yourself in situations that are confusing and difficult, and to be a person that when faced with a tough situation, you are the one who "figures it out."  Another characteristic Bill described great leaders to have is grit, and he stated the opposite of grit is ease.  Liz Wiseman, president of The Wiseman Group and best-selling author, referred to a similar concept as the "Rookie Zone."  A concept she described where leaders are willing to admit when they don't know and let someone else take the lead.  She argued that we are at our absolute best when we're in a state of not knowing, and when we feel like we have everything under control, that is when we are in danger of settling in the dreaded plateau.

So how can we apply this knowledge to teaching?  Channel yourself back to the very first day you stepped foot in the classroom and remember the nervousness, the wonder, and the excitement that was bubbling up inside of you on that very first day.  Spend time with a first year teacher this year and be present with him or her.  Don't automatically go into mentor mode, giving advice and trying to help.  Take time to see the world through that first year teacher's eyes and think about how their perspective might also impact your own.  Next, think about something you have completely avoided doing in your teaching career at all costs: implementing guided reading groups, learning how to use Google Classroom, joining a committee for Positive Behavior Management, etc.  Now that the one thing is in your head, decide that you're going to accomplish that thing that you told yourself you were never going to do.  We know the reason we were avoiding it is because we don't know how, are afraid it will be too much work, and/or are afraid to ask for help.  We learn the most when we enter unchartered territory and have to learn, grow, and frankly, force ourselves to feel a little uncomfortable.  Don't be afraid to channel your inner rookie.

2.  Be a Giver

While Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of Business and best-selling author talked about his theory of three different types of people: takers, givers, and matchers, my mind flew in so many different directions as I tried to figure out how I operate, how my colleagues around me operate, and how it impacts our school environment and the learning of our students.  I learned that givers are the lowest performing but also the highest performing group in the work place, and that one of the many blind spots we have is that we think we're a giver when we're really a taker.  Takers rise quickly and fall quickly because other takers take them down and matchers take them down as well.  If as a work place, you are able to get the right people on the bus, then it becomes a place where you weed out the takers and transform matchers into givers because they shift to the norm of a giving atmosphere.  Adam recommended creating a culture of help seekers where small groups of people in a business can get together and say what it is they need.  Others in the group go around and offer to help.

I see the game of giver, taker, and matcher going on in a school environment ALL OF THE TIME.  And by saying this, I am not saying by any means that I am not guilty of sometimes engaging in a role that I would hate myself in the mirror for.  In a school it looks like this:

1.  Takers: take time at staff meetings with personal questions, complaints, and concerns, take lesson plans from others without offering any of their own, do "their own thing" instead of collaborating with teammates based on the vision of the school, leave teammates in a bind during important situations.

2.  Matchers: say I'll give you my lesson plans if you give me yours for next week, I'll switch morning duty with you if you switch it with me, I'll go talk to the principal about this issue if you talk to this parent about another.

3.  Givers: say here are my lessons plans, use them if they'll help you, volunteer to cover morning duty, detention, and/or lunch recess if needed, are willing to take whatever teaching role that will be best for the staff and the students, will switch to take a difficult student for a teacher who is struggling with that student, will volunteer time to work with new staff, is willing to be on committees to help better the school, follows the vision set for student behavior management and curriculum, gives compliments and appreciation to co-workers.

Let's get real honest with ourselves here.  What if we were to eliminate the takers and the matchers and everyone we worked with had a giver mentality?  What would our school look like?  How would our students feel?  What impact could we make?  What would it be like to go to work every morning?

3.  Provide a Service of Excellence

As Horst Schulze, the CEO of the Capella Hotel Group, spoke, I was astounded by his humbleness and commitment to service.  Although he is in the hotel business, he made me realize quickly that his message could transcend across all service areas, and that every job is a service job.  Horst believes that negative customers are terrorists to your business and that the only way to develop loyal customers is by gaining their trust.  You do this by creating excellence in your profession, by operating from a place of no excuses, by not hiring people, but selecting them to not come to work but to join in on the company's dream, and by realizing that no human being can claim superiority over another human being.  During Horst's talk, he gave a scenario of three different experiences of him walking into a bank and what the worst service would look like and what the best service would look like.  I immediately saw what those three different experiences would be like for a student walking into a classroom for the first time.

Something that deeply resonated with me as an educator is that we are in a service profession.  Each day we step foot into our classrooms, we are providing a service to the students that we teach to provide an engaging and relevant education, we are providing a service to their parents to clearly communicate back and forth, and we are providing a service to the tax payers of our community to uphold a public school that they are proud to contribute to.  So what does a teacher who understands this concept do in his or her classroom?  He greets his students as they walk in the door each morning, she prepares engaging and relevant lessons daily and delivers them in a way that aligns with the district's vision, he contacts parents with concerns as well as celebrations, she gives specific feedback on writing assignments to help students grow as writers.  Most importantly, a teacher who understands what excellence means in the classroom never believes that he is above his students, judges a parent, or thinks less of a classroom aid because they don't have the same teaching degree.  That teacher sees every person in the school system who plays a role in the child's education as a part of a team where every member must play their role in order to succeed.

4.  Eliminate the Language of the Lid

Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of, spoke about the language of the lid, and how in order to move forward, we must change our self-talk.  He encouraged attendees to go through your biggest fear to get where you need to be because you have everything you need to do exactly what you want to do.

Teachers are pretty famous for having "the language of the lid."  I could physically feel my face getting flushed as Craig went on to talk about the language of the lid.  That voice where we tell ourselves that we have way too much to do and can't do one more thing.  My own self-talk began to tick in my head.  As teachers, we are asked to wear many hats, and there is no doubt that keeping all the balls up in the air is completely overwhelming at times.  However, what good does it do ourselves to have this negative self-talk saying that we can't?  What if we talked positively to ourselves and worked on becoming better leaders by doing things like improving our communication and listening skills, delegating authority instead of tasks, getting better at giving and receiving feedback, and improving our work ethic at school?  What if?

5.  Stay in the Game

Jim Collins, nationally acclaimed business thinker and best-selling author, said something to in his speech that rang down to the very depths of my soul as a person and as an educator: stay in the game.  Jim stated that strong leaders have unquenchable love for their work and passion for ideas.  He brought up the question: What if Steve Jobs had quit?  And continued by stating that if you believe life comes down to a single hand, you will lose easily, but if you believe life is many hands, you will play them all and never give up.  I learned at the summit that there wasn't one influential leader who spoke who had it easy.  Many of them did not focus on their "career" and climbing the ladder.  They focused on their unit of responsibility at the time and being great at that.  They had the mentality of first who not what.  Collins encouraged us to look at our profession and find a way to make a contribution and an impact on people through it.

Isn't it crazy that as educators we get so wrapped up in the politics of our government, or our district leadership, or a decision the school board made that we don't agree with, that we lose sight of the fact that we are molding the minds of the students we are surrounded with each day?  Jim Collins stated, "It's very difficult to have a meaningful life without doing meaningful work."  How lucky and truly blessed are we as educators that we have the opportunity to do incredibly meaningful work each day?  We must never forget to open our eyes to this meaning and remember why we entered into this profession.  Teachers need to bring greatness every day and push themselves to the limit in order to get their students to accomplish things they never knew they could.

I highly encourage anyone reading this who has never attended a Global Leadership Summit to find a local area where it is live streamed and to attend next August.  There are no limits for who this will impact.  Our world needs all humans to realize we are all leaders who can make an impact.  Global Leadership Summit


  1. Kasey well stated! I was unable to attend the summit this year but have had mulitple opportunities in the past. I am looking forward and inspired to use these five lessons to help me start this new school year. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    1. Thanks Megann! It's so cool that you have attended the summit. I haven't heard of it until our church hosted this year, and I'm so glad they did! I hope you have an amazing school year! Miss you!


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