At the beginning of this year, a colleague and friend told me that I was born to lead, but that I must learn to follow first. It was a time when I had made the decision to co-chair the English Department at my school. It got me thinking about the definition of a good leader. Forbes says that the top ten qualities of a good leader are honesty, ability to delegate, communication, sense of humor, confidence, commitment, positive attitude, creativity, intuition, and the ability to inspire. Because this is second time managing adults and because I failed at it so miserably the first time, I come to this role with much apprehension. Unsure of what “follow” means. I have to learn to follow before I can lead said my friend and Mr. Ben Franklin. What does that really mean? Follow whom? The rules? The administration? The universe or god or whomever you may believe is out their guiding you with divinity? I mean I often tell my students don’t follow, lead.
As a teen and into my adulthood, I have prided myself in being a rebel. It is so much a part of my identity and my self-esteem. I thought that being rebellious made me the best or better than others. I thought it defined me and made me a better teacher. So much so that I made decisions without listening to others’ opinions about curriculum always thinking that I knew best. It is very hard to follow anyone in general and the rules specifically. My parents often tell me that from birth I marched to the beat of my own drum, ignoring all adult advice and rules. So when I was told to follow, it’s no surprise that I got confused. I don’t know how. I am so used to being the Queen Bee that I don’t know what its like to be a worker bee; one that supports and allows others to shine and allows life to unfold in complete and intentional imperfection. It was the role I played growing up in my family. I did it all and received accolades for it. I used to define, and perhaps to some extent, still define followers as weaker than those who lead.
This past September, I got the gift to this same colleague as my grade-level partner teacher. She follows rules. If she rebels, she does it in a way that no one would ever know. It’s magical to watch. Unlike me, who, when rebelling sets off fireworks to alert everyone that rebellion is now happening in Room C121. Working with Mrs. __ has allowed me a moment to take an easier road, one paved by the district. AKA I am following the rules more than I ever have in my eight years of teaching. What this has brought me is sleep-filled nights, less anxiety, less internal conflict, and less frustration.
So, I am following–something I never thought I’d ever do. Thus far, I learned that I don’t have to sacrifice myself and my passion for teaching certain topics. No, instead there is room for both–me and the district’s standards. While, there are days when I wish I had more freedom and autonomy. The truth is both of those ideals trigger many negatives in my life. I would like to be a serene person in life. In order for me to achieve the serenity that I seek, I must follow. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Conforming used to be a curse word in my vocabulary; the worst insult anyone could every spring on me. However, conforming or following allows me to live a more balanced life. It allows me to let go a little.
Then, what does to following really mean? Perhaps it means to let go and loosen my grip on life a little, allowing myself to watch things happen; you know take the back seat and look out the window as the beautiful countryside passes by. It something I often forget to do. Managing adults is hard, but the truth is some of what I’ve tried to do is not manage, but control. Controlling adults is impossible. What we as a department will accomplish this year is what we create together. It has nothing to do with a single person, but the group. Today I am loosening my grip on life and the department that I’m supposed to be co-chairing so that I can look out the window and watch the clouds glide past the sun creating large, beautiful shadows on the grass. Grateful for the progress I’ve made and hopeful for the learning that’s on its way.