5 Critical Lessons in Leadership

 A New Design
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information on twitter and other social media platforms?   Have you ever tried to look at the big picture, identifying the information that you value most?  Recently I did just that and found that it was the connections to people and the take-a-ways from my interactions with those people that had the most profound impact on me.  In this post I will share with you 5 lessons I’ve learned from some of the great leaders with whom I’ve connected.  I think some of these lessons might surprise you! 


While recently listening to an episode of Angela Watson‘s podcast Truth for Teachers (Season 3 Episode 19) I was struck by an offhand comment that a teacher had shared with Angela during one of her speaking engagements.

“You never know the power of your words and how just one sentence spoken, you don’t think it even means anything, could touch and inspire someone and actually change their whole life.”

This is so true! Have you ever heard someone say something that resonated with you, something that you couldn’t forget, something that you took to heart?  That’s exactly what happened to me with 4 leaders that I connected with on twitter.  These leaders each left me with a leadership lesson that I took to heart.  Some of their lessons are obvious and they wouldn’t be surprised that what they said had an impact on me – it was their message afterall.  Others are not so obvious and I’m sure they had no idea that what they said resonated so deeply with me.

So let’s get started!

Lessons One and Two:

These lessons comes from Todd Whitaker.  The first lesson is one of the obvious ones and one that I think I embody well.  Todd say’s it’s about People Not Programs.  Now anyone who has read any of Todd’s work or has listened to him speak will be very familiar with this phrase.  This is a leadership lesson that I believe in wholeheartedly.  If you look at my blog subtitle you will see that it describes me as Passionate About People.  Good leaders know that it doesn’t matter what new fangled initiative comes down the pike it they have great people in their schools great learning will happen.  As a leader you need to make people and your relationships with them your priority after that the rest will fall into place more easily.

The second lesson I learned from Todd was a little less obvious.  I was listening to an old Google Hangout that he was a guest speaker on.  He went on and on about his leadership stuff (all great I might add!) but the thing that resonated with me most was his comment that every day, no matter how early he had to get up, he went out for a run.  He shared that, no matter what his day held for him, good or bad, he felt more equipped to handle it if he had exercised in the morning.  Now Todd is a man who is on the go all the time.  I decided that if he can find the time to exercise then so can I.  As a result I’ve recently taken up running (ok-more like a mix of walking and jogging) again. As a leader with much on your plate you must find something to do every day that grounds you.

Lesson Three:

The third lesson comes from first listening to then meeting Joe Sanfelippo.  I first heard Joe at the What Great Educators Do Differently Conference in Chicago.  He led a session called Telling Your School’s Story.  By the end of his session I was thinking YES! we need to do this.  Upon returning to school after the conference we made a more conscious effort to share our school’s story not only on twitter, facebook and other social media platforms but also in traditional newsletters and the occasional spotlight on the local television station.  We actually felt so strongly about sharing Joe’s message that we decided to bring him to our school as our keynote speaker for opening day! As educators we all have a responsibility to tell our school’s story.  As a leader you need to share within your building, your district, your community, and the world, all the amazing things that are happening in your school.  If you don’t tell your story someone else will…

Lesson Four:

The fourth lesson came to me from Jimmy Casas.  Like Joe, I first met Jimmy at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference.  He had such an easygoing personality and seemed to be always trying to make people feel good.  He was so smooth that at first I thought it might all be an act, he was after all trying to promote his conference. But I soon learned that this was the real Jimmy.  Jimmy cares about people and truly wants to help others be the best that they can be.  Jimmy truly embodies the meaning of servant leadership.  As I move forward in my educational journey I look to Jimmy’s example to guide me on my way.  As a leader you must encourage, support and enable those that you serve to discover their full potentials.

Lesson Five:

The fifth lesson came to me from Jeff Zoul.  This lesson was one that I am quite certain was not the intended message but, like the teacher speaking to Angela Watson, something he said resonated with me.  In a session at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference (can you tell I loved this conference?!)  he co-facilitated a session with Jimmy Casas.  In this session he said that one of his missions is to respond to every single person that contacts him.  He does this whether he knows them well or he doesn’t know them at all, whether they tweet him, e-mail him or call him, whether it is 12 noon or 12 midnight, whether they are an edu-allstar or they are an unknown, whether he feels like it or he doesn’t feel like it-he responds. Now that seems a little cumbersome and might even be classified as obsessive but it sends a powerful message – you are important.  I know first hand that not all leaders follow Jeff’s example-there are many “edu-allstars” whom I’ve reached out to who never responded to me-not a good feeling.   As I move forward on my path to leadership I look to emulate Jeff and his mission as I believe, no matter what your role in education, you matter!  As a leader you need to take the time to ensure that every person you come in contact with feels valued when they are in your presence, whether physically or virtually.

So in conclusion I ask that each and every one of you reflect on those leadership lessons that you feel are the most important.  I encourage you to share those lessons with others.  I’d love to learn with you-your comments on this post are welcome.  Together We’re Better!!

The Optimistic Educator…


One Call Trumps All-On Being a Parent

The stage was set. We had just finished up our special cookbook edition of #Read4Fun.  I had posted the storify to our website and was now getting my tweetdeck ready for #PodcastPD. It’d been months since I’d participated in this chat and I was eager to re-connect with Stacey, Chris and AJ.   And then about 10 minutes into the chat it happened…

The Phone Rang

Actually it quaked like a duck.  Only when my son calls does my phone quack like a duck.  My heart immediately skipped a beat and my stomach did a flip-flop.  Evan was calling! 

A little background is needed here.  Evan is 23 years old.  He graduated from Ithaca College this past May, lived and worked in Ithaca for 8 or so months then moved to Boulder Colorado with his girlfriend and 2 cats in February.  Neither of them had jobs.  They decided they needed a change so they just up and moved.  Ahh to be 23 again!

When the kids first moved to Boulder we would hear from Evan frequently but now that they were settling in the communication was less and less.  It was to the point that I was starting to get anxious.  Why wasn’t he returning our calls?  Why wasn’t he returning our texts?  Was something wrong?  Did something happen that he didn’t want to tell us about?  If you’re a parent of an older child you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Within the first 15 seconds of talking with him we knew that all was well in his world.  It’s funny how, when you become a parent, you can instantly tell how your child is feeling, even on the phone before they’ve said a word.  My husband I both talked and laughed with Ev for a good 45minutes. By the time we hung up our hearts were bursting with pride and joy.

After hanging up, my thoughts went back to my computer. #Podcast PD twitter chat was over and the accompanying blab was wrapping up.  I’d missed it.  I was feeling a little guilty that I totally bailed on the chat so the next morning I sent Stacey a quick tweet apologizing and telling her why I disappeared.  This is how the conversation went:

Stacey’s response to my tweet pretty much sums up life as a parent. Whether your kid is 3, 23 or 63 being mom trumps all every….single….time….

TheOptimistic Educator…