Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Leader's Identity

A Leader’s Identity
Sandy Cameli, EdD • Educational Specialist • Hawaii Dept. of Education

At a recent professional development inservice for teacher leaders, a highly respected and exemplar educator quipped, “Everyone keeps telling me I’m a leader, but I just don’t get it - what exactly do they see, and why don’t I?”  This comment was less about humility and more about understanding one’s own perception of identity. What we exude may be a behavior - even a facade depending upon circumstances - but do these actions truly represent who I am, or who I believe I am as a leader?

Robert Dilts’ research, on “The New Leadership Paradigm (1996)”, provides an overview of how an individual’s beliefs and values are developed or influenced by environmental and experiential factors. Dilts’ model can be compared to nested bowls which illustrate various levels of learning. The smallest bowl represents behaviors or the “what” that is observable. These behaviors can be actions or reactions associated with a certain time, space or incident. The next bowl is considered capabilities or the “how” level. This second container aligns to skills or strategies used to accomplish a goal or task. The third bowl is where our values/beliefs are housed. Here a leader examines the “why” behind decision making, or consults his or her own moral compass for guidance on actionable items. The last bowl holds all the other levels intact and is considered an individual’s identity. This analogy asks the “who” question and focuses on the mission of a person’s purpose for family, career and life goals. Finally, environment asks the “where” and “when” questions and influences the opportunities or obstacles a leader encounters.

So how can educators apply this model to their own professional growth in order to identify as a teacher leader? Ongoing reflection and self-assessment practices help to hone these skills, which in turn help to mold an identity. For example, a professional growth plan developed around Dilts’ framework may look something like the sample below:

Teacher Leader Professional Growth Plan - SAMPLE
Goal: Use facilitation strategies that engage participants during team meetings
Behavior(s): What will I commit to doing differently?
  • use facilitation strategies (7 norms of collaboration) in my articulation meetings
  • follow the PDCA/ SMART model for problem solving when monitoring progress of RTI
Capabilities: What will I need to learn or skills to develop?
  • practice the 7 norms of collaboration - especially pausing and paraphrasing
  • practice using SMART goals & PDCA cycle outside of grade level Data Teams.
Beliefs & Values: What are my beliefs about this area of improvement?
  • Using these new skills will help validate perspectives & create a positive atmosphere to keep everyone focused on goals/outcomes.
Identity: How will this make me an effective Teacher Leader?
  • I will be a better facilitator by ensuring all participants have equal opportunity to contribute and feel ownership in the outcomes/decisions made collectively.
Reflection/Continuous Improvement: How will I monitor my progress? How will I know I am successful?
  • I plan to be more reflective. I like the idea of writing down reflections at least 3 times a week. Based on these insights, I can see if I’m being successful at what I am trying to improve upon.
Environment: What external factors do I need to be aware of in order to achieve my goal(s)?
  • It’s important to review the mission & vision of our school, as well as observe the norms of behavior currently in place before proceeding w/my goals.

The teacher leader’s growth plan (above) focuses on the skill of facilitation. Currently this educator does not believe facilitation is translating into an effective behavior, which may be construed as weak leadership. However, the educator values multiple perspectives by validating participants, which is tied to a strong belief system. The goal then becomes honing the skill of facilitation by practicing paraphrasing and pausing to elicit multiple viewpoints.

An individual’s identity cannot be solely based on observable behaviors, but instead by one’s beliefs and values and how they are intertwined with capabilities and influences. The teacher at the start of this post could not “see” what others saw, and likely had not stopped to analyze various components - or “Levels of learning” - before jumping to the conclusion of not being a leader.

For aspiring and veteran teacher leaders, it’s never too late to assess our identities via professional growth goals. Take a moment to analyze your own “bowls” by asking, “Are they all accounted for and do they fit together appropriately?”  If the answer is “no”, then it’s probably time to find some new bowls, or at the very least - reconfigure existing containers so they align with your belief system!

Dilts, R. (1996) The New Leadership Paradigm, NLP University, retrieved from