Friday, April 14, 2017

Transitioning from Teacher Leader to School Leader: What I Learned From My Intern Experience

This month, my compelled blogger tribe is writing about Spring Break. Officially, our Spring Break came much later than other schools and was much shorter. But I'm in a year-round school, and I've had a couple of weeks off. The past few weeks have been a time for a lot of self-reflection.

What I've Learned From Being An Intern

Everything about school leadership, for me, comes down to one thing and that is the relationship that you build with the people you serve. Most of my intern hours were completed when I was off-track. It was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because I was officially able to complete my required hours. It was a curse because I had very little time to build trusting relationships with the people that I worked with every day at my assigned schools. To their credit, I was able to quickly build positive relationships with the staff, students, parents, teachers, and other community members easily. I feel like a family member at both schools and am so grateful for such a positive experience! I genuinely love the people at both schools!

I learned the importance of listening and leading by asking questions. I'm naturally a pretty good listener, and I treasure the 1:1 conversations that I have with people. But as an intern with a different role to play, I caught myself several times wanting to give answers rather than helping the teachers discover their own answers. Thankfully, I hear daily from my PLN the importance of leading by asking questions. It's something that I've worked hard to improve in my classroom and something that I was very conscious of as I observed teachers and gave them feedback.

Communication is always important, and you can never seem to communicate enough! Email is a common way to communicate but for me, one of the least effective ways to share a message. But I learned to meet people where they are at and communicate the same message repeatedly and in multiple ways. I'm grateful that I already had worked on building better lines of communication and had experience with using social media, tech tools, and other traditional forms of communication. Communication is much more than an email or newsletter. I learned more about the importance of clearly articulating your values and beliefs as a leader. It really came back to listening and clarifying what was shared with me. I think that communication can always be improved!

Another leadership lesson that was reinforced was the importance of being visible. It would be easy to be trapped in an office all day. There's always plenty to do! But my favorite thing as an intern was to visit and observe classrooms! I loved watching and interacting with the students, having them tell me about their learning, and why it was important. I enjoyed watching the different styles of teaching and talking to teachers about their instructional choices. I gained a lot of insight and tons of ideas! One of my favorite times of the day was being outside greeting kids and parents in the morning and then wishing them a goodnight at the end of the day. Lunchtime was also a time when I had a chance to get to know the students and engaged in some fun conversations. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed going to school board meetings and other meetings with various community members. I learned a lot and built a larger network. I enjoyed conversations as I worked with support staff members. It was a pleasure, and I sure laughed a lot! It was clearly evident throughout my intern experience the amazing people working for the benefit of kids!

It was an odd sensation at first, but I was acutely aware of people watching me all of the time- of how I acted, talked, interacted with students and others. I was myself but aware that I was wearing a different mantle of stewardship on my shoulder even as an intern. Intentionally or unintentionally, I was modeling behavior for students, staff, parents, others in the school community. I felt a need to be "professional" but personal. I also learned, even more, the importance of walking the talk. If I encouraged a teacher to take a risk, I also had to be willing to do the same. It was new to me to be so vulnerable in such a public way. I take risks every day in my classroom with my students and give it very little thought. But to risk in front of colleagues was a little scary.

Thankfully, I had great mentor principals and vice principals, and I learned a lot about management. I feel very comfortable being an instructional leader and working with students and teachers. But, I'm less comfortable working on the management side of being a leader in a school setting. I'm grateful to my mentors for taking the time to show me the "paperwork side" of school leadership. There is a lot for me to learn!

Another lesson that I learned is the importance of confidence and self-efficacy. Although a lot of the intern experience was new to me, I did have a calm confidence that I could do the job and be successful. Although, I will admit that going to the middle school was a complete culture shock and I was a deer in the headlights for a couple of days. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was stressed! Did I make mistakes during my internship? Yes! My mentors were very kind and patient as I learned. And I have so much more to learn! But, I know that I can be a successful administrator. I know I'm ready for a new challenge. I know that I'm ready to transition from a classroom teacher to a school leader when the opportunity comes. Being in the classroom for as long as I have has helped me to develop a certain skill set that most administrators don't have. I have classroom experience, but I've also had to adapt to the many changes that have happened in education- especially during the last seven years or so. I've adapted to the Common Core, more testing, and accountability, integrating technology, PLCs, and many other changes. I have a degree of credibility and instant rapport with teachers, and I know that I can leverage that to improve student learning in a school. It's always much harder to implement new initiatives in a classroom than it is to just read and learn about something from a book or conference. An opportunity for me to be a school leader for the next school year likely won't happen- which truthfully hurts my heart. But, I will remain positive and take advantage of the time to continue learning and growing.

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