Friday, March 31, 2017

Challenge equals Change

By: Sandy Cameli, EdD 
Educational Specialist, Hawaii Dept. of Education

Listening to the radio while driving to work, Kelly Clarkson belts out, "...what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.... stand a little taller...", and the words resonate in my mind posing more questions than answers. Do trying situations truly make us more resilient? Do ruffled feathers promote sleek and smoother presentations in the future? And, if Kelly can feel empowered by her own lyrics, then can the rest of us mortals feel bolstered by inspirational phrasing?

At a recent national conference, I had the privilege of listening to Mawi Asgedom (@MawiAsgedom) share his life experiences and educational impact through a simple graphic resembling a donut. Asgedom explained that we all have outer circles and inner circles from which we operate personal and professional growth. The outer circle encompasses our "not yets" or targets we aim to achieve; while the inner circle includes "can do's" or accomplishments. And as we expand our horizons, the inner circle will widen, lessening the distance to the outer circle's perimeter. Likewise, depending upon our lifelong learning aspirations, the outer circle will continue to expand pushing outward, ever so slightly away from our comfort zone in order to cultivate growth.

Figure 1: Asgedom, M. (2016)

For master teachers considering leadership roles, the inner circle has likely expanded to include pedagogy, content, classroom management and "multi-tasker extraordinaire" qualities; whereas the outer ring may still identify facilitation, communication and systems thinking opportunities for future growth.  Additionally, one's own reflective practice should be able to identify qualities within the "can do" circle, while also honestly determining which leadership traits - in the "not yet" sphere - are achievable based on timeline, environment and growth-readiness.

For teacher leaders comfortable in their inner circles and seeking outer-circle opportunities, a few ideas below can help to stretch those spheres based on the acronym CIRCLES (Communicate, Identify, Reflect, Challenge, Lead, Empower & Share):

  • (Communicate regularly: Oral and written communication are honed when utilized frequently. Athletes don't just warm up before a game, they practice in order to strengthen their skills. Communication is the same way - if you don't use it, you will lose it - so take advantage of opportunities to speak and write for various audiences.
  • (I) dentify goals: Set short- and long-term goals for personal and professional targets. Monitor and track the progress, share your growth and celebrate all accomplishments! Identify "not yets", and aim to move these goals into the "can do" circle.
  • (R) eflect on practice:  Be honest with yourself. Reflect on past and present successes to identify why they worked; Likewise, analyze previous missteps by asking yourself - How can I learn from and capitalize on my mistakes? Do I see the whole picture before making a call, or do I make snap decisions? What qualities do I admire in a leader and how do I grow these traits in myself? Take time to reflect on a regular basis so it's built into your leadership routine.
  • (C) hallenge self: Look for new ways of doing ordinary things. Get out of a rut or normal routine by completing tasks through new routes, with new resources and rejuvenation. Take risks. Michael Jordan once said, "We miss 100% of the shots we don't take" - if we're not willing to push ourselves, we're less likely to see any gains.
  • (L) ead by example: Leadership is not a title, it's an attitude. By modeling risk-taking, humility and relationship-building, you are leading. Take the time to invite others into collaborative growth opportunities which move initiatives and ideas forward. Anyone willing to pursue goals for the greater good is a leader.
  • (E) mpower others: The greatest difference between a boss and a leader boils down to those who point at others vs those who point toward a direction/goal/vision. As a leader, empowerment of others grows invested stakeholders for common missions and visions. Encourage peers to stretch themselves by inviting their ideas & contributions into shared decision-making opportunities.
  • (S) hare! We are social beings and collective learners, therefore we increase our capacity when collaborating with others. Consider starting small by sharing with a coaching partner or trio think-tank to build up a resource bank. Eventually, take the next step to make "what works" public for others to learn from and grow themselves. 

Leadership within the field of Education continues to evolve as our staff, schools and students morph into 21st century learning environments. Gone are the days of moving around in circles and feeling helpless by what teacher leaders cannot do; to TODAY where our "not yet" circles become "can do" spheres of influence making differences in the lives of staff and students in our schools!

Finally, it's important to remember:  

"If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you!"


Asgedom, M. (2016). POWERFUL EDUCATOR: Put the Growth Mindset into Action. Mawi Incorporated,